More than 100 people turned up at an A&E asking for Covid-19 tests, sparking a plea from a hospital trust for anyone who is not seriously ill to stay away.
Bolton NHS Trust said dozens of people went to Royal Bolton Hospital because they could not get into test centres.
Chairwoman Prof Donna Hall said it showed a “lack of a cohesive strategy” in the government’s “failing” approach.
The government said NHS Test and Trace was “working” but was also dealing with people without symptoms taking tests.
Bolton has the highest infection rate in England with 196 cases per 100,000 people recorded on Saturday.
The total number of cases rose from 401 on 5 September to 564 a week later.
The trust’s medical director Dr Francis Andrews said people should only go to hospital if they are “extremely unwell or referred by your GP”.
“We are extremely busy in our emergency department as a result of this increase,” he said.
“Only attend this department if you have experienced a life-threatening accident or illness and need urgent medical attention.”
Prof Hall said the situation now was different to March when they had extra staff drafted in and were not expected to continue with planned operations.
“This failure of the test-and-trace system is placing huge pressure on the NHS and social care,” she said.
“We had 100 people in our accident and emergency unit.
“We’ve now got 30 people who are Covid-positive and we’ve got five people in our high-dependency unit so this virus is not going away.
“I’ve felt that there has been a real lack of a cohesive strategy for the whole containment of Covid-19 and for test and trace.”
Lancashire’s director of public health said the system was at “breaking point” and was “compromising our ability to stop the transmission”.
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi said it was “beyond frustrating”, adding: “The issue is lab capacity.
“We have our own community testing sites and were doing about 200 tests a day – [on Tuesday] we did 1,639 tests. We can’t go on like this.”
Bolton Council said a test centre had been due to open on Saturday at the Last Drop Village Hotel in response to the growing number of cases but was delayed when “an external business” failed to turn up.
A spokesman said although the delay had been “out of our hands”, the authority was “working with the government and their partners to find out what has happened”.
Local Democracy Reporting Service there had been a “noticeable change” in people’s behaviour across Greater Manchester and the testing system was in “meltdown”.
He said it was “largely” because people were unable to get tested.
“It’s not massive numbers, I don’t want to over-egg it, but [it] indicates that people are starting to get concerned,” he said.
“Test and trace is pretty much in meltdown.
“It’s a major concern, and the way tests are being rationed is just not sustainable for containing the virus effectively going forward.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said NHS Test and Trace was “working”, adding the system was “processing a million tests a week, but we are seeing significant demand for tests, including from people who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible”.
He said anyone with an appointment would not be turned away, and new booking slots and home testing kits were being made available daily.
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