Covid testing industry launches body to self-regulate ‘Wild West’ market for PCR swabs amid No10’s crackdown on ‘exploitative’ firms

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  • New body promises to ban unfair, late and costly COVID travel tests
  • This comes after the government promised to crack down on ‘covid cowboys’
  • However, a member of the new group appears to be violating their own rules

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A new coalition of COVID testing providers has promised to build a ‘trusted’ list of companies Britons can rely on for accurate, timely and reasonably priced swabs.

The Laboratory and Testing Industry Organization (LTIO) – made up of six providers – said it would self-regulate testing clinics.

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It will offer a kitemark to firms that perform their ‘trusted testing services’ with the goal of raising market standards.

The formation of the LTIO comes after the government’s pledge last month to crack down on the PCR test market was compared to the ‘Wild West’ with ministers ‘acting like cowboys’ by advertising deceptive prices on government websites. Firms labeled as

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Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the cost of PCR tests could be a ‘barrier’ and consumers and families needed to be protected from ‘exploitative practices’.

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID is required for travelers arriving and returning to the UK, but concerns have been raised that some unscrupulous test providers are taking advantage of holiday makers. The new laboratory and testing industry organization says it will help curb these practices.

No10’s consumer watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), earlier this month advised the government to create a one-stop shop list of approved testing providers.

In one of eight recommendations the CMA advised to do this by ‘improving the basic parameters to qualify for inclusion and remain on the gov.uk list’.

PCR testing has been an important part of the government’s COVID travel rules, requiring travelers to take them for two days and sometimes eight days after returning to the UK, with prices for the first tests reaching £400.

LTIO vowed to create ‘a gold standard accreditation process and kitemark to provide consumer certainty’.

What the Competition and Markets Authority asked covid test providers to do

  • PCR test providers should not focus their advertising on cheap tests that are only available in very small quantities or not at all. This includes pricing information provided to GOV.UK or other websites
  • The price shown should be the total cost including all mandatory charges (i.e. charges that the consumer cannot avoid)
  • Any requirement or special steps a consumer must take to obtain their test or results, for example being present at a particular location at a particular time, must be clearly disclosed in advertising and on the provider’s websites
  • The terms and conditions used by the PCR test providers should be reasonable
  • Terms and conditions should be clear and easy to find, and should not hide important information in the ‘small print’
  • PCR test providers should not use terms that remove or limit their liability to consumers where the provider is at fault and things go wrong
  • Information on the time frame for obtaining the test and results must be honest, accurate and clear
  • PCR test providers should also ensure that PCR tests and results are provided within the time-frame advertised
  • PCR test providers must ensure that any terms and conditions or policies on cancellation and refunds are reasonable and reflect the statutory rights of consumers
  • PCR test providers must ensure that they provide an adequate level of customer service

Source: Competition and Market Authority

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Only providers who adhere to the code of conduct based on the letter sent by the CMA can obtain Kitemark. Providers must also score 3.5 or higher on the independent TrustPilot ratings website.

The six founding firms are: BioGrad, Signpost Diagnostics/ExpressTest, Hello Verify, Medical Diagnosis, Project Screen by Prenetics and Kured.

The LTIO said it would work with the government to ensure that UK industry has the world’s ‘highest ethical and professional standards’.

Francis Ingham, the body’s independent director, said: ‘The laboratory and testing industry has an important role to play in helping the UK successfully navigate through the pandemic.

‘This new professional body is designed to set, enforce and raise the standards of service for our customers.

‘By establishing a gold standard kitemark and an independently enforceable code of conduct, we are confident we can raise standards across the industry.

‘The public has a right to expect that testing companies provide accurate, timely and competitively priced services, and that is what LTIO aims to do.’

But with BioGrad Diagnostics currently in the offing, doubts can already be cast on the body’s reliability. Trustpilot. Rating on 3.4, just below the cut off of the group.

Biograd Diagnostics was contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.

Consumer Rights Organization What? Travel editor of Rory Boland said that the LTIO will be ‘ultimately judged on whether it delivers meaningful improvements for travelers’.

“Some of the companies included in this new body have received repeated consumer complaints and their services are rated slightly better than average, which is hardly a gold standard,” he said.

‘The government should implement the full range of recommendations of the CMA to fix the testing market, so that consumers can travel with confidence.’

A health department spokesperson told MailOnline that no testing company should take advantage of British holidaymakers.

“We are clear that it is completely unacceptable for any private testing companies to take advantage of holidaymakers and we are taking action to crack down on poor performance and deceptive prices,” he said.

‘It is fitting that industry takes action to ensure that the public gets the testing service it deserves and we welcome the launch of a new trade association for COVID testing companies and laboratories.’

NS…

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