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More than 400 PCR travel test providers, including some pharmacies, under CMA scrutiny

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is to gather and analyse core information on more than 400 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) travel test providers, including some pharmacies, C+D understands.

All providers of the testing service needed for travel to and from the UK are in the scope of the CMA’s review, a spokesperson told C+D last week (August 13).

However, the competition watchdog may restrict the scope of its research in the coming weeks to focus on specific areas depending on its findings, the spokesperson added.


DH: Carry out “review of the market for PCR travel tests”


On August 6, health secretary Sajid Javid wrote to CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli to urge the competition watchdog to “conduct a rapid high-level review of the market for PCR travel tests”.

Mr Javid said the cost of PCR testing “can act as a barrier, especially for families who want to travel together”.

“It is not right if some families experience yet further disruption unnecessarily because of practices in the market for private travel tests,” Mr Javid wrote.

Mr Javid also asked for immediate advice on how to “stamp out any exploitative behaviour in this market”, calling for the regulator to “take action to prevent such exploitation where you can under your existing powers”.


CMA: “Aware of concerns”


Currently, anyone over the age of 10 returning to England from abroad must take a PCR test on or before their second day after arrival. Those who are not fully vaccinated and are travelling from the government’s amber list of countries must quarantine for 10 days, taking tests on day two and eight.

According to the government’s list of approved ‘Test to Release’ providers – last checked by C+D today (August 16) – standard prices for private PCR tests range from as little as £12 to as much as £500. The standard price offered by pharmacies ranges from £65 to £175.

Responding to Mr Javid’s letter, Mr Coscelli wrote that the CMA is “aware of concerns about the evolving markets for COVID-19 tests for international travellers, and what happens when things go wrong”.

The CMA “welcome[s] the opportunity to explore the issue in the PCR testing market in more depth”, he said, adding that “we will tailor our work to allow us to respond within the next month”.


DH ‘working with travel industry’ to reduce costs


On Saturday (August 15), the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) announced it had cut the costs of NHS Test and Trace travel tests from £88 to £68 – though this is still more expensive than those on offer in some pharmacies.

Mr Javid said that this would “benefit people right across the UK”, adding that he had “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.”

Asked why it was not within the DH’s remit to regulate the prices of PCR tests – especially those listed on the government website – a government spokesperson told C+D that it “continues to provide relevant information about the companies listed on GOV.UK to ensure consumers have what they need to choose the most suitable private testing provider, and the CMA review will compliment and inform these efforts”.

“We are also working with the travel industry and private testing providers to further reduce testing costs,” they added. “We are clear that all private providers must meet a set of required standards and each provider is held to account by the independent United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), with companies that fail to meet high standards being removed from the list of approved suppliers.”

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