Travel

Ministers could ‘cull’ Covid test providers which sell £20 swabs for FIVE TIMES their listed price

Ministers could ban companies offering that quote misleading prices for Covid PCR tests, it emerged today. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has asked the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether travellers are being ripped off or misled. 

Government sources expect to begin ‘culling’ companies that offer ‘wildly different prices to the ones they are offering on the government website’.

A source told The Times: ‘The CMA will be looking at that and that’s expected to be part of their findings and recommendations.’ 

Research by the Mail shows the real cost of single-test kits advertised for just £20 on the list can be as much as £99.

It comes after MailOnline yesterday revealed the most expensive test listed on the Government’s website of approved providers costs £400 — 20 times the ‘fair price’ they should sold for. On average, British travellers have to fork out £92 per test. 

A price in the region of £20 would be reasonable for the swabs according to Professor Stephen Bustin, a world-renowned expert on PCR at Anglia Ruskin University.

Most of the cut-price offers are either out of stock or only offered in centres — meaning many customers would have to travel hundreds of miles.

Tourists travelling to green list countries and fully vaccinated holidaymakers going to amber list destinations are required to book one PCR test in Britain for when they reenter the country. 

Non-vaccinated travellers need two after returning from amber list countries and red list destinations require two regardless of inoculation status. 

Ministers insist travellers take PCR tests — which can take three days to produce results — because they are more accurate than cheaper lateral flows, which give answers in as little as 20 minutes.

Ministers could ban companies offering PCR tests for travel at five times their advertised price of £20. Pictured: Ed Cockroft receives a test in Cabot Circus car park, Bristol

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has asked the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether travellers are being ripped off or misled

A price in the region of £20 would be reasonable for the swabs according to Professor Stephen Bustin, a world-renowned expert on PCR at Anglia Ruskin University

Health Secretary Sajid Javid (left) has asked the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether travellers are being ripped off or misled. A price in the region of £20 would be reasonable for the swabs according to Professor Stephen Bustin (right), a world-renowned expert on PCR at Anglia Ruskin University

Of the 12 cheapest firms listed yesterday, all offering £20 single-test ‘self swab at home’ kits, none offered to post them out at that price. Ministers are being urged to end the ‘Wild West’ of test costs for travellers. 

We found testing firm ArrivingUK advertising ‘self swab at home’ day two kits for £20 on the Government portal. 

But on the firm’s website this was only available to people who could collect them from Wembley in north London. The real cost was £89 plus £10 postage.

Abicare Health was listed at the same low price but its website says this is only available if you can travel to Manchester — and not until November. The real cost for a posted kit is £75.

Everything Genetic Ltd also offered single-test packages for £20 but its website says this price is only available for NHS workers. Otherwise it’s £60.

The £400 PCR test listed on the UK Government’s approved list of providers is offered by ROC Health Services, which is located just around the corner of London’s Harley Street.

But there are several factors that could be behind the sky-high price, including the fact it is based in central London.

Research by the Mail shows the real cost of single-test kits advertised for just £20 on the list can be as much as £99. Graphic shows: The step-by-step process of a PCR test

Research by the Mail shows the real cost of single-test kits advertised for just £20 on the list can be as much as £99. Graphic shows: The step-by-step process of a PCR test

Research by airline consultancy Skytrax shows airport PCR tests were available for as little as $8 (£5.70) in Mumbai, India, in April. The cost in Britain was nearly £100

Research by airline consultancy Skytrax shows airport PCR tests were available for as little as $8 (£5.70) in Mumbai, India, in April. The cost in Britain was nearly £100

WHAT COMPANIES ARE ADVERTISING £20 TESTS? 

Test For Now claims to offer a self-swab Covid test for £21 on the Government website but the cheapest available on its website is for travelers to take on their second day back in the UK and costs £89 for a self-swab version, while it costs £97 for the same test at its clinic.

Meanwhile, Everything Genetic‘s £20 offer is only available to NHS staff, with others charged £60. 

Pillhub-Feltham Pharmacy and 0-100 Travel 19‘s £20 tests are currently sold-out and their other PCR tests cost £80.

ArrivingUK advertising ‘self swab at home’ day two kits for £20 on the Government portal. 

But on the firm’s website this was only available to people who could collect them from Wembley in north London. The real cost was £89 plus £10 postage.

Abicare Health was listed at the same low price but its website says this is only available if you can travel to Manchester — and not until November. The real cost for a posted kit is £75.

The Department of Health also says the tests — which can be performed in a matter of minutes — are supervised by medical staff on site, meaning the firm may factor in some labour costs.  

ROC Health Services uses Source BioScience’s laboratory to carry out the testing, suggesting the provider likely has to pay to get the samples analysed. Labs use a machine and array of chemicals to decipher whether a sample contains Covid.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘The Government list is not really fit for purpose. Many of the cheapest advertised don’t exist or the advertised prices are impossible or unrealistic to obtain.

‘Many also fail to provide tests and results on time. It’s unacceptable and ridiculous.’

Avi Lasarow, boss of testing firm Project Screen by Prenetics, said a ‘small minority of rogue traders’ were bamboozling travellers. He added: ‘Ministers must really act to end this Wild West of prices.’ 

It came as one vaccine expert said many holidaymakers were paying far more than a ‘fair’ price for gold-standard PCR tests, which are more accurate and can detect mutant strains.

Professor Bustin said firms should charge around £20 to cover the cost of ingredients and overheads.

He told The Independent: ‘A fair price, one which reflects ingredient costs and the infrastructure required, would be around about £20.’ 

The average price among all the 425 Government-approved provider for a single swab is just over £90 — a cost which pricing many families out of going abroad this summer.

Virginia Messina, of the World Travel & Tourism Council, called on ministers to subsidise PCR tests if they keep insisting on them, or let travellers take cheaper rapid tests.

Everything Genetic agreed ‘many companies are manipulating their price’ but denied it was one of them, saying it had ‘provided quality services to the NHS, private sector and public for nearly five years now’.

A Government spokesman said: ‘The Health and Social Care Secretary has requested advice from the CMA to stamp out any exploitative behaviour.

‘We are also working with the travel industry and private testing providers to further reduce testing costs.’


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