The government has reduced the cost of its NHS Test and Trace Covid-19 PCR tests for international arrivals, and says it will review its list of private providers “to ensure pricing is accurate and transparent”.
NHS PCR tests are free for those with symptoms of Covid-19 (and from today for doubled jabbed people identified as close contacts of someone with the virus) – but they have always been chargeable when used to enable travel.
The price of NHS Day 2 and 8 tests for travel were reduced in May from £210 to £170, and the cost has now been cut again to £136. Day 2 and 8 tests are required for non-fully-vaccinated arrivals from amber list destinations.
Meanwhile the cost of Day 2 tests has been reduced from £88 to £68 – these are required for all arrivals from green list countries, or fully-vaccinated arrivals from amber list destinations.
Travellers can choose from a long list of private test providers instead of opting for the NHS tests, and, as Business Traveller readers have testified, the pricing and customer service of these can vary wildly.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced “a rapid internal review of the pricing and service standards of all providers of day 2 and 8 tests”.
The ten-day review will see any misleading pricing being “clamped down on swiftly”, with providers failing to meet necessary standards being “urgently removed”.
The government said that the review “follows a request on Friday 6 August from the Health and Social Care Secretary for an urgent high-level review from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to address exploitative behaviour in the private testing market and crack down on excessive pricing or misleading claims”.
It added that “Test providers must use laboratories that are either accredited or undergoing accreditation by the independent United Kingdom Accreditation Service”, and said that any companies failing to meet required standards “will be removed from the list of approved suppliers without hesitation”.
Commenting on the news, Javid said:
“I know how much people have looked forward to their summer holidays and that the cost of PCR testing can be a barrier to that. That is why I am determined to protect consumers and hardworking families from exploitative practices and ensure high quality tests are available at a reasonable price.
“I am pleased to announce that with immediate effect we’re slashing the price of day 2 and 8 tests from NHS Test and Trace by a fifth – this will benefit people right across the UK. And I look forward to reviewing initial advice from the Competition and Markets Authority over the coming days.
“I’ve also ordered my department to urgently review the list of private providers on gov.uk to ensure pricing is clearer and transparent. Any provider found to be misleading the public will be kicked off.
“Too many providers are acting like cowboys and that needs to stop. The public should be allowed to enjoy their summer holidays without having to face excessive costs or anxiety.”
Travel industries bodies have given a lukewarm reaction to the announcement, with Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association, stating:
“The Health Secretary’s decision to cut the price of Government PCR tests is a token small step forward.
“These tests remain prohibitively expensive in comparison to other countries and the private sector is unregulated. UK travellers are currently facing unacceptable demands in order to travel safely, despite our effective vaccine programme.
“This Wild West of testing must be brought under control to give business and leisure travellers confidence.”
Meanwhile Airport Operators Association CEO Karen Dee said:
“It is welcome the Government has recognised that the cost of testing for travel is sky-high, which has been a major barrier to international travel and has left summer holidays out of reach for many.
“However, this small reduction is little more than tinkering and does not go anywhere near far enough to meaningfully cut the costs of travel.
“It is time for the Government to get a grip on testing and replace costly PCR tests with more affordable rapid tests for low-risk countries and bring international travel in line with the rest of the economy.”