I had to book a COVID-19 test for one of my children recently – and was doing it at 2am, whilst very tired! Like most forms on the .Gov website, it was largely clear and easy… but there were just 3 things I thought they could have done differently.

Step 1: What is your name?

So, yes, that seems pretty easy. What could be easier? But, I wasn’t booking a test for myself. And there will be lots of people booking a test for someone else who’s too ill or young or old to book their own. Very often, when you arrange things for your kids, you’re asked for your name and then later for your child’s name or who you’re enquiring on behalf of – such as when you ring 111 and they ask your name first but then ask if you’re calling about yourself or someone else.

So – I thought they’d have thought about this – and I shouldn’t over think it and try to second guess them – so I entered my name. However, a few steps later it became clear they weren’t going to ask me for a name of who I was actually booking for, and instead were asking ME for my DOB, and NHS number (which they clearly state you don’t need so don’t worry if you don’t know it, or if like me, you couldn’t be bothered to rummage through cupboards at 2am) so I stopped and started again.

I’ve since found that if you’re doing an at-home kit, when you go to register it online, the “What is your name” question explains it should be the name of the person being tested – so they do take the thorough approach on some of their forms, but not the main booking one.

Your nearest testing station.

I know where my nearest testing station is – it’s 12 minutes from my house. However, the website was telling me my nearest was in Cardiff. That’s a DIFFERENT COUNTRY!! Surely there must be a mistake with their geolocating, I was wondering. I decided I’d carry on and see what happened because I didn’t fancy driving all the way to Cardiff…

A few steps later, I got to the point of needing to pick my test station and they gave me a list of my 3 closest. At that point, I saw one that was listed as 3rd but was actually loads quicker to get to. (And meant I stayed in the same country!) 

A bit of checking on Google Maps and it ends up that their idea of what was closest to me is in miles, but isn’t in the time it actually takes to get there. I don’t know what mapping system the Government use, but Google Maps has a Directions API so you can get journey times so it might be useful if the COVID-19 test booking could use something similar so that it lists things by how long your drive will be, rather than how many miles away something is. I guess they could argue if you’ve got Coronavirus they want you travelling the least amount of miles possible – but I could argue back they also want you out of the house for the least amount of time possible!

Overall, it might just help if they didn’t – early in the process – show you the one closest test site if a few steps later they’re then going to show you the 3 closest (and let you see further afield on request|). Once you see the 3 closest you can make your own decision based on how close you feel another place is but seeing just the first closest can be concerning if you know that’s not actually very quick and easy to get to. 

As for my closest testing station, it was never shown as an option. The website told me how many slots were available over the next 5 days at the stations it did tell me about, so I assume my closest was fully booked and therefore not included in the results… but if it hadn’t been 2am I might have rung up to check if that was the case, and I’m sure it’s less hassle for all involved if the website can just deal with things and avoid phone calls.

They may be trying to avoid people putting off getting a test – if you see your test centre is fully booked for the next 5 days you may go away and come back later – and of course it’s important to be tested as soon as possible. But personally, I didn’t need the “5 day” message at all – it just would have been reassuring to show me my local centre but mark it as unavailable so I at least knew they’d got my address right.

Smooth process

Despite more clarity around who’s details you need to enter being preferable, and perhaps some tweaks to how they tell you the proximity of your nearest testing centre and don’t show you fully booked centres the whole process was very quick, clear and easy with all follow up messaging – so far (we’re waiting on results) – delivered without a hitch.

Now back to checking my phone and waiting…