PCR tests for travel are a “rip-off jungle”, former chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority, Lord Tyrie has told the BBC.
The government website recently advertised tests for travellers at previously difficult-to-obtain prices.
Lord Tyrie described the government’s “mismanagement” of the tests as a “misfortune.”
He claimed that overpriced tests and poor service were “still widespread.”
He attributed the problem’s reappearance after the summer to the government’s “carelessness.”
The government stated that it monitors issues raised by the public and takes appropriate action as soon as possible.
According to a government spokesperson, this action has included the removal of companies from the advertised list.
“We’ve been clear that any private testing company taking advantage of vacationers is unacceptable,” a government spokesperson said.
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Concerns about the cost of tests have been raised once more after the government announced that people arriving in the UK would be required to take a PCR test before the end of their second day, in addition to a pre-flight test.
During the summer, the Health Secretary was forced to launch an investigation with the CMA into the operations of companies that advertised tests. Thousands of customers complained that they had never received results for tests that they had ordered and paid for and that were listed on gov.uk.
Lord Tyrie, a former MP and Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, stated that “it appears that some of the worst practises, including misleading online advertisements, overpricing, and unacceptable poor service, are still widespread.”
The Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation, which works with the government to ensure that the UK testing industry adheres to high ethical and professional standards, claimed that the government failed to “enforce accuracy” on its provider list.
Christmas is traditionally a busy time for the travel industry, with friends and families crossing borders to reunite for the holiday season. Vaccinations will make travel easier for those who choose to travel, but the new Omicron variant will necessitate testing once more.
‘Urgent action’ needed
Lord Tyrie, who criticised the government and the CMA for market management in August, warned at the time that the government needed to take advantage of the gap between summer and the busy winter travel season “to sort this out once and for all.”
“It was a scandal waiting to happen, and it is now happening,” he said, adding that “urgent action is required if we are to have a reasonable chance of protecting thousands of consumers.”
“It would be scandalous to allow this to continue during the peak Christmas season.” Other countries appear to have done better; we must work harder.”
As the government has reintroduced the need for more travel-related testing, the Department of Health and Social Care has approached a number of private providers to see if they could increase their testing capacity to meet rising demand.
According to one provider, the government contacted them and asked, “Can we do day 2 and day 8 testing as there is a capacity issue?” This provider declined due to the market’s difficulty, as well as the stress and pressure that comes with it.
The government is said to be closely monitoring provider performance through a two-strike process. Those who are found to have failed standards will be removed from the GOV.UK list. Private providers may be reinstated to the list if they have taken corrective action and provided evidence to the Department.
“We’ve been clear that any private testing company taking advantage of holidaymakers is unacceptable,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said.
“The government has taken action to drive down the cost of tests for international travel, with the average Day 2 test now costing less than £45 and many available for less than £20.”