Tests were not available for people with coronavirus symptoms in some of England’s worst affected areas on Wednesday.
Slots were offered in one of the 10 local authorities with the highest Covid-19 infection rates, as the testing system struggles to cope with soaring demand.
It was not possible to book a test in Bolton – which currently has the highest infection rate in England – on Wednesday morning, the PA news agency found.
A hospital boss in the Greater Manchester town urged people to stay away from its emergency unit unless strictly necessary, after nearly 100 people attended the Royal Bolton Hospital to request a test in recent days.
But those trying to book a test in Hyndburn, which has the seventh highest rate, were being offered a walk-through nearly 20 miles away in Bolton, with slots available at Mere Hall car park, according to the Government website.
As of midday, tests were not available in the local authority of Oadby and Wigston, in Leicestershire, which has the second highest rate in England.
Tests were not available in other parts of the North West, where some areas remain under local restrictions.
On Wednesday morning, it was not possible to book a test in Preston, which has the third highest infection rate in the country, and Oldham, which has the fourth.
Tests were also not available on the Government website in the remainder of 10 local authorities with surging cases, which are Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Tameside, Warrington and Knowsley.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said those with a postcode in areas with the highest rates of Covid-19 should be given priority when booking a test.
“On testing, we do need the Government to prioritise areas with the highest numbers of cases for bookings through the national system,” he told an online press conference on Wednesday.
It was also not possible to book a slot in Liverpool, Wirral, Bury or Salford, which are all areas within the top 20 highest infection rates in England.
NHS Providers, which represents NHS trust leaders, expressed concerns that shortages were leading to an increase in people attending accident and emergency units requesting a test.
Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said hospitals in Bolton, Alder Hey and Plymouth had all publicly announced that tests were unavailable in their emergency departments.
The South Tees NHS Trust, which runs hospitals in the Middlesbrough area, said they had seen an increase in children and young people hoping to get a test from accident and emergency.
Julie Suckling, service manager for emergency medicine, said in a statement: “Anyone requiring a test should follow the guidance on the Government website.”
In St Helens, a drive-through test was offered at Royal Blackburn Hospital and a walk-through at a site in Farnworth, Bolton.
A drive-through test nearly 53 miles away at Uttoxeter Racecourse Stables car park was offered to those trying to book a test in Rochdale, as well as a walk-through at Railway Road car park in Darwen.
One woman who lives in Leicester, which recorded 306 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, one of the sharpest increases in any city in the UK, said she had been unable to book a test for her son.
Callan Glover said she had been seeking a test for six-year-old Arlo Schlupp, who had previously needed to shield for medical reasons, since Monday.
The 30-year-old said the Government website was unable to provide her with a home test and offered her a test centre over 400 miles away in Aberdeen.
On Tuesday, the 30-year-old paid £125 for Arlo to be tested privately and he was seen within the hour, with results expected within 48 hours.
“I felt I had no choice as I am concerned for his health,” she told PA.
“He also has had five positive cases in his school over the last few days. I can only assume there are many more cases but we can’t test our children.
“It’s made me very frustrated. We knew the kids were going back to school … we shouldn’t be paying privately.”
Meanwhile, PA found that as of Wednesday morning, those trying to book a test in Bradford, which has recorded a sharp increase in its seven-day rate, were told to try again later.
There was a similar picture in Fencehouses near Sunderland, where an outbreak has been linked to a working men’s club, as those booking tests were told to return later.