If you’ve tried to order lateral flow tests online in the past few days, you’ve probably encountered the message: “Sorry, there are no more home delivery slots for these tests at this time.” Unless you’re Dave McNally or one of his 16,300 Twitter followers.
At the end of December, he wrote a software application that would quickly fill out the form to the point where it would become clear if tests were in stock – then share that information via the Twitter account. UK @LFT_alert.
The insights he gained provided insight into why so many people struggle to order tests: Batches are only released a few times a day, at specific (and unannounced) times, and stock is often sold out within the hour.
As the Government announced on Friday the end of free Covid tests for most people in England, the demand for LFTs (lateral flow tests) means they are increasingly being taken up within minutes of becoming available.
“Monday night it was only 45 minutes, and there was an 18-minute session in the afternoon – so only an hour and three minutes in total,” McNally said. “People are going to waste their time on the site trying to order the damn things if they don’t know the time slot.
“That’s why I made a point of posting fairly regularly: ‘It’s always 8 p.m. Tell people, because not everyone is on Twitter.
He added: “I think demand has really picked up this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if on Thursday we see a five-minute window or something stupid like that.
McNally, 46, from Bristol, started the project after struggling to source LFTs due to high demand after Christmas. As a web developer and self-proclaimed “data-nerd,” it was relatively easy for him to write a program to automate the form-filling process, allowing him to source tests as soon as they were back in stock.
The next day, he noticed someone on Twitter was complaining about the exact same problem: “I thought to myself, it’s a little selfish that I did this for myself, when there are probably thousands of people who have exactly the same difficulties, and I could just create a Twitterbot [to share that information]”said McNally.
Launched on December 31, the bot quickly built up a loyal fan base, with people sharing and retweeting its vital information.