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 has recently advertised tests for travellers at prices that have been difficult to obtain.
Lord Tyrie said for the tests to have been “mismanaged” once by the government was a “misfortune”.
Overpriced tests and poor service he said were “still widespread”.
For the problem to resurface after the summer, he added, was the down to the government’s “carelessness”.
The government said it monitors issues raised by the public and takes rapid action if appropriate.
This action has included the removal of companies from the list advertised, a government spokesperson told the BBC.
“We’ve been clear that it is unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers,” a government spokesperson said.
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Concerns regarding the price of tests have been raised again after the government announced people arriving in the UK would need to take a PCR test before the end of their second day – on top of a pre-flight test.
During the summer, the Health Secretary was forced to launch an investigation with the CMA to look into the operation of firms who were advertising tests. Thousands of consumers complained that they never received results for tests they ordered and paid for, which were listed on gov.uk.
Lord Tyrie, a former MP and Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee said “it appears that some of the worst practices: misleading online advertisements; overpricing; unacceptably poor service among them, are still widespread.”
The Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation, which works with the government to ensure the UK testing industry has high ethical and professional standards, said the government had failed to “enforce accuracy” on its providers list.
Christmas is typically a busy time for the travel industry, with friends and families crossing borders to reunite for celebrations. Vaccinations will make travel easier for those who chose to travel, but the new Omicron variant means testing is necessary again.
‘Urgent action’ needed
Lord Tyrie, who criticised the government and the CMA in August for their management of the market, warned then that the government must take advantage of the gap between the summer and the busy winter travel period “to sort this out once and for all”.
“It was a scandal waiting to happen and it is now happening and it needs very urgent action if we’re to have to have a reasonable chance of protecting thousands of consumers,” he added.
“To allow this to continue over the peak Christmas period would be scandalous. Other countries seem to have done better – we’ve got to try harder”.
As the government has reintroduced the need for more testing associated with travel, the Department of Health and Social Care has approached many private providers to see if they could increase their testing capacity to meet increasing demand.
One provider told the BBC that the government contacted them to ask: “Can we do day 2 and day 8 testing as there is a capacity issue?” This provider refused because of the difficulty of the market place, and the stress and pressure that goes with it.
The government is understood to be closely monitoring the performance of providers with a two-strike process. Those deemed to have failed on standards would be removed from the GOV.UK list. Private providers may be reinstated to the list once they have undertaken corrective action and provided the Department with evidence to show this.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We’ve been clear that it is unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers.
“The government has taken action to drive down the cost of tests for international travel, with the average price of a Day 2 test now under £45 with many available for £20”.Internet Explorer Channel Network