PCR travel testing market labelled ‘disgrace’ by Walsh
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The emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant has caused global concern, with the UK reinstating its dormant red list for quarantine on several southern African countries and enforcing stricter testing rules for travellers. Under new rules, passengers are required to have a negative PCR test to enter the country and further PCR testing after arrival.
However, with free NHS Covid testing not permitted for travel use, the expense has fallen on the traveller, adding hundreds of pounds to journeys.
Recent reports have shown that some testing firms – advertised as options on the Government’s testing site locator – are hiking prices exorbitantly in line with new rules.
The Government said it “does not endorse or recommend any specific test provider – you should do your own research about them and their terms and conditions”.
But a report first published in the Times showed PCR testing firms offering tests for as little as 30p to get to the top of the list of providers advertised by the Government for passengers looking to book a post-arrival PCR test.
After clicking the link on the Government website to book a test with the firm, however, the 30p test was unavailable and the next cheapest cost £59, almost 200 times as expensive.
Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh called out dozens of firms on the Government website, which are now charging more than £100 for a single PCR test.
Writing for Politico’s Playbook, editor Alex Wickham said: “Private companies abusing the system and blatantly profiteering from testing have been a feature of the government’s health and travel policies for the past six months.”
He added: “no one in Whitehall has shown the slightest interest in doing anything about it.”
So how can the consumer stay safe here?
The best way to ensure you’re not being conned by hidden costs is to ensure you’re using a testing firm that is regulated.
A spokesperson for the trade association covering the testing industry – the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO) – told Express.co.uk: “None of our members have increased the price of their PCR tests since the announcement on November 27.”
These include testing sites such as Cignpost Diagnostics, Cerulean Health, Qured and Halo.
These accredited sites might not be the cheapest on offer, but you’re more likely to have efficient service and not have any added costs at click-through.
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You should shop around and make sure you’re getting a testing package that accurately reflects your needs.
The LTIO spokesperson said: “We believe consumers should have the right to pay more if they want their test turned around at short notice.
Similarly, if a customer wants a cheaper service where they have to drive to a testing centre themselves, that should also be a choice they are able to make.”
The LTIO flags misleading testing providers to the Government and holds members to those standards.
When the practice of testing price hikes emerged in the summer, Mr Javid ordered officials to remove companies from the Government’s website who were attempting to manipulate the list.
After the new rules were introduced last week, the health secretary again promised MPs that companies who broke the rules would be “delisted”, but this has yet to manifest.
Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 backbench group of Tory MPs, said: “With these new testing requirements being introduced it is essential that the government acts quickly to establish the credibility and reliability of the companies involved.
“Passengers deserve better than the testing chaos that was experienced in the summer.”
The consumer group Which? urged the Government to regulate the testing market to protect passengers.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “The Government must take steps to properly regulate the marketplace and implement the Competition and Markets Authority recommendations so that passengers can have confidence that they’re booking with a provider they can trust.”
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