A senior health official in Brent reminded people to only take Covid-19 tests if they are showing symptoms.

Dr Melanie Smith, director of public health at Brent Council, said it was vital to promote clear messages about who should be getting testing, amid concerns the system is under strain.

She explained that, at present, this should only be those who are symptomatic – a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, loss of taste or smell – and living in the borough.

Those wishing to curtail a period of self-isolation with a negative test, or those hoping to secure a result before a trip abroad, should not get tested.

She told a council community and wellbeing scrutiny committee that “about 25 per cent of tests are being taken by those who shouldn’t be”, though she did not explain how this figure is calculated.

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock quoted the same figure earlier this month as he urged people not to take “inappropriate” tests.

Dr Smith admitted testing capacity in Brent “has not been what we would like” over the past couple of weeks but that it is heading in the right direction.

She said: “We are actively working with the Department of Health to increase access to testing and are also working with them on new models of testing, including home testing, to increase capacity.

“We know the situation will be quite difficult for the next two to three weeks, but it will improve.”

She was supported by Sheik Auladin, managing director of Brent Clinical Commissioning Group, who said there should be sufficient capacity in the borough should it experience a surge of infections.

Their comments come amid criticism of the Government’s approach to testing, with reports of people having to wait hours or travel long distances to secure a test.

Last week, Mr Hancock denied the testing system was failing – pointing out it has its highest capacity to date – but apologised to those who had struggled to access it.