Ministers are branded ‘hypocrites’ as cost of Government Covid travel test is four times the price of cheapest private swabs
- The Health Department is now charging four times what the cheapest private provider is advertising on the Government’s website
- A Mail analysis found ratio has increased from being double earlier this summer
- Critics branded the fiasco ‘a national scandal’ and accused ministers of having no intention of ending ‘Wild West’ testing costs facing travellers
Ministers were last night branded ‘hypocrites’ over the cost of Covid travel tests as it emerged they have failed to reduce their own prices for summer.
The Health Department is now charging more than four times what the cheapest private provider is advertising on the Government’s website.
A Mail analysis found this ratio has increased from earlier this summer when it was charging double what the cheapest private firm did for a single PCR swab.
Critics last night branded the fiasco ‘a national scandal’ and said it suggested ministers have no intention of ending ‘Wild West’ testing costs facing travellers.
It came as Commons transport committee chairman Huw Merriman wrote to Health Secretary Sajid Javid demanding answers about the testing system.
He questioned ministers’ justification for forcing holidaymakers into shelling out for pricier PCR tests when only 5 per cent of positive cases are being sequenced for virus variants of concern.
It also emerged that health ministers have not assessed the potential benefits to hard-working families of capping test costs despite pledges to drive down prices.
The disclosure came in the answer to a written parliamentary question from former Tory minister David Davis, who asked health minister Jo Churchill if her department had assessed ‘the potential benefits’ to British holidaymakers of capping costs.
Ministers were last night branded ‘hypocrites’ over the cost of Covid travel tests as it emerged they have failed to reduce their own prices for summer [File photo]
She replied: ‘The department has not made a specific assessment.’ She also insisted testing costs ‘have fallen significantly’ in recent months. But the Mail’s analysis found the Government is continuing to demand £88 for a post-arrival PCR test – the same as it was charging in June.
This is more than four times the £20 being advertised by the cheapest private firms on the Government’s list of approved providers.
In June the amount was double what the cheapest private firm was advertised as charging, then £44. It means the Government’s prices could add more than £350 to the cost of a foreign break for a family of four to a green or amber list country, as even the double-jabbed are required to take a PCR swab by day two of their return.
And its price for a two-test package, required for non-fully vaccinated people arriving from amber countries, remains £170.
This could add nearly £700 to the cost of a family getaway.
Boris Johnson previously pledged to make it ‘as easy as possible’ for families to travel abroad this summer. But critics last night said ministers’ failure to reduce their prices meant this promise had been broken.
Labour MP and former minister Ben Bradshaw said: ‘It is quite clear that despite Boris Johnson’s promises, the Government has no intention of doing anything to bring down the cost of tests.
‘While separated families can’t afford to travel to see one another and thousands of jobs in the travel industry are being needlessly sacrificed, mates of ministers are raking it in with these outrageous prices.’
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: ‘Ministers are absolutely hypocrites. Actions speak louder than words and sadly, as this demonstrates, there have been very few actions by ministers. The PCR testing regime is not only a national embarrassment, but a national scandal.’
Boris Johnson previously pledged to make it ‘as easy as possible’ for families to travel abroad this summer. But critics last night said ministers’ failure to reduce their prices meant this promise had been broken [Stock image]
There is no obligation to choose the Government’s post-arrival testing package instead of a private provider’s.
Although some private providers are advertised on the Government website as offering single-swab packages for £20, the Mail yesterday revealed how these rates are often not realistically obtainable for many, as when clicking through to each firm’s website they are mostly out of stock or only offered in centres, meaning many would have to travel hundreds of miles.
Mr Merriman demanded to know why returning travellers can’t take cheaper rapid tests when so few positive cases are being sequenced. He pointed to NHS figures showing sequenced cases fell from 49 per cent during late February to early March.
For the first three weeks of July, there were 6,977 cases with 354 sequenced – just 5 per cent. He also asked why more than 90 per cent of Government-approved private testing companies are yet to be accredited as competent operators.
Only around 38 of the more than 400 firms on the list have been fully approved by the UK Accreditation Service, responsible for vetting the firms.
A Health Department spokesman said: ‘Companies that fail to meet the high standards required will be removed from our list of approved suppliers without hesitation.’