Health officials have issued an urgent plea to stop the public going to the “very busy” Royal Bolton Hospital A&E department in the hope of getting COVID-19 tests.
And in the last few days, nearly 100 people have turned up at accident and emergency wanting to be tested.
Officials said patients should only go there if they have a life-threatening accident or illness and need urgent medical attention.
It comes as the government struggles to get to grips with soaring demand for tests in England.
Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, tweeted: “A&E is currently very busy, managing a high volume of patients who have arrived requesting a #COVID19 test.
“Patients are requested not to turn up to the hospital.”
Dr Francis Andrews, medical director at the trust, said: “We are seeing more people being admitted with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 as a result of the very high rate of infections in Bolton.
“This is not a shift we want to see. The situation at the hospital is under control and we were well prepared for this.
“However the rate continuing to rise is of concern, and we continue to urge the people of Bolton to consider others when making decisions that could jeopardise their safety.”
Dr Andrews added: “We are extremely busy in our emergency department as a result of this increase. Only attend this department if you have experienced a life threatening accident or illness and need urgent medical attention.
“We need to keep people safe, and having limited numbers in this area is key to this. Nearly 100 people have attended the department in recent days requesting a COVID test.”
Instead the trust is telling people who have coronavirus symptoms that they should isolate for seven days and book a test through NHS.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.
A statement on the trust’s website said: “The hospital is now seeing an increased number of [COVID] patients under 65 being admitted, with some in their 40s and 50s, which is a significantly younger age group than at the peak of the pandemic in April and May.”
And the chair of the trust, Professor Donna Hall, tweeted: “Very busy emergency department today as poorly people unable to get a test come to us for help.
“This is why it’s so important to have a functioning testing & tracing system – one day of delays can cause hundreds more infections. This is a very worrying situation for us in Bolton.”
The trust said in the hospital there were 23 patients with confirmed COVID-19, and 26 suspected cases.
Speaking about the national picture, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there would be “prioritisation” of tests for people with acute clinical need and those in social care settings as he acknowledged “operational challenges” in the system.
He faced complaints in the Commons about people being forced to travel long distances or even enter false addresses in the hope of securing a test.
But Mr Hancock told MPs the average distance travelled to a test site is now 5.8 miles as he defended the government’s efforts.