A pensioner who died of coronavirus was denied a test because an NHS computer mistakenly said her home was on an island.
Margaret McKell’s broken-hearted husband said it was just one of a series of failings which let down his wife and left her so ill there was nothing else that could be done.
Instead of looking forward to a long and happy retirement together, John McKell, 67, was forced to say goodbye to Margaret, 73, on the phone as she lay dying in hospital.
Choking back tears, he said: “It is such a horrible disease and we will never know if she would have got any longer. All we are left with are ifs, ifs, ifs. It is appalling the way the system isn’t working.”
Despite having clear symptoms, Margaret had to wait a fortnight for a test and was then too ill to attend.
Her husband of almost 45 years last night told how the NHS refused to send her a test kit to their home in Helensburgh because the computer ruled they lived on a Scottish island.
Both he and their four children had called the helpline, insisting the seaside town was on the mainland.
But, even when John spoke to someone from NHS 24 based in Erskine, there was no way of overriding the system.
Their son Mark, 42, began trying to get a test kit sent to her home.
John said: “My son tried and tried to get one sent but every time he tried he just got the same answer, ‘We can’t send it out because Helensburgh is a Scottish island’, which is absolute nonsense.
“I rang the Covid line and the NHS 24 line and both came up with the same answer.
“I spoke to the Scottish helpline and they put me on to NHS 24. I spoke to a woman in Erskine and she had the same problem with it.”
The family then tried to get a local test but the first one offered was at Prestwick Airport – 56 miles away.
Neither John nor Margaret drove and they knew it would not be sensible to take public transport.
John said: “We tried for a week and then tried to get an appointment somewhere without travelling in someone’s car or on public transport.
“They offered her an appointment at Prestwick Airport. The second week of trying, she started developing a cough.
“Her body was getting run down and there was no chance of a test anywhere.
“I could see her deteriorating before my eyes but still no one was interested in trying to help.” Finally, a test was booked for Dumbarton but on the day, she could not even get to the front door because she was so ill.
She was sent by ambulance to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.
A week later she was dead.
John said: “I am not saying if we had got her a test earlier it would have saved her because she had underlying health problems but she might have been strong enough to fight it with early treatment.”
John was also advised to get a test but he explained the difficulty in getting one.
NHS Highland, however, arranged for him to get one in the grounds of his own GP’s practice. He is angry the same arrangement was not made for his wife.
He said: “If it was as simple as that why could I not have taken my wife down there? There is a real flaw in the system.”
His positive test meant he could not say goodbye to her other than via a phone call.
John said: “I had to phone her and tell her I probably wouldn’t see her again. It was great being able to talk to her.
“She only managed to get a few words out but I knew what she meant.
“I got to speak to her again the night before she died and was able to tell her how much I still love her and she told me she loved me. That’s all I needed.”
The couple had been in virtual isolation for a couple of weeks because Margaret was in the vulnerable category.
As she needed a mobility buggy to get about and the weather hadn’t been great, she spent all her time in the house.
John said: “She was showing signs of symptoms. She wasn’t tasting anything and didn’t want to eat.”
The couple’s MSP and Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “This is a heartbreaking story and my sincere condolences go to Mr McKell on the loss of his wife.
“He and his family have been comprehensively failed by the system. How anyone can imagine Helensburgh is an island demonstrates a basic lack of geographical knowledge.
“There should at least have been knowledge of local testing facilities with mobile units at GP surgeries.
“We will never know what the outcome would have been if she’d had a test earlier but it is an abject failure.”
Asked about the case, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our thoughts and condolences go out to the family at this distressing time.
“We are aware some postcodes in Scotland are having issues getting access to a home testing kit through the UK Government’s testing portal.
“We have raised this issue directly with the UK Government for some time and we would be happy to explain to Mr McKell the reasons why NHS 24 cannot override the UK testing system.
“We continue to work closely with boards to ensure those with suspected Covid-19 can access NHS testing irrespective of their home address and we are setting up walk-through testing sites in areas where these problems persist to try to assist more local testing.”
A UK Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Our priority is to ensure everyone who needs a test can access one, with more than 600 testing sites across the UK, including 38 in Scotland, with another 11 local testing sites planned.”