Coalition accuses suppliers of misleading customers over ‘missing’ rapid antigen tests

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Greg Hunt says government is being blamed when overcommitted suppliers can’t deliver, and false RAT claims will be reported to ACCC

The federal government has accused rapid antigen test suppliers of misleading customers about how many RATs they can deliver and then attempting to blame the commonwealth when they can’t deliver the “missing” tests.

The Coalition has promised millions of tests are on the way but they are still in short supply on retail shelves. A program to give free tests to concession card holders begins on Monday while the shortages persist.

Pharmacists around the country have been told their orders will not be filled because the commonwealth has requisitioned them. However, the federal and state governments have denied this is the case and accused suppliers of lying.

The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said the claims were “false, misleading and untrue” and made by companies that had “overcommitted and not been able to deliver”.

Related: Rapid antigen tests: Australian consumers miss out as government and big business snap up supplies

The Therapeutic Goods Administration boss, Prof John Skerritt, said some companies wanted to “make a lot of money where they can”.

“We have had a lot of trouble with companies making false claims,” he said.

In South Australia, orders for 200,000 tests have not been filled and the suppliers reportedly blamed government for taking them.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will investigate after the SA premier, Steven Marshall, wrote to the commissioner, Rod Sims, asking him to investigate “as a matter of urgency”.

“I have been concerned to be advised of allegations that supply of rapid antigen tests that was supposed to be reaching retailers in SA has been diverted to other jurisdictions,” the premier wrote.

“I am deeply concerned by suggestions there has been interference in the commercial market which has resulted in suppliers reneging on contracts and preventing supply reaching SA customers.”

Related: ‘No chance’: initial availability of concessional rapid tests in doubt, say Australian pharmacists

An ACCC spokesperson confirmed they would look into the issue.

“The ACCC is aware of a number of reports that business customers are being given various explanations by their suppliers about why orders for rapid antigen tests cannot be delivered as promised. The ACCC is investigating some of these claims,” the spokesperson said.

Several suppliers have told their customers they cannot provide the ordered tests because the government requisitioned them.

But the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Thursday that suppliers were telling “falsehoods”.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia said this week that while governments weren’t requisitioning tests under their emergency powers, suppliers often preferred to deal with big buyers including governments and large corporations.

On Thursday, Hunt said his department would report companies making false claims to the ACCC.

“There are different reasons and excuses put out [and] there is a global spike in demand. As a consequence of these false claims, I have asked my department to report where we are aware of them,” the health minister said.

Skerritt said as well as the false claims there are also forged letters of TGA approval being used, which he has reported to the police.

“Unfortunately, while we have a lot of companies doing some really good work, getting product out there in the supply chains, there are some who clearly are doing the wrong thing,” he said.

Multiple companies have recently registered with the TGA to provide tests.

Dean Whiting, the chief executive of Pathology Technology Australia, said his members had assured him there was no attempt by any government agencies to acquire their tests.

“Tests are being supplied in Australia by companies that have a strong track record in diagnostic products globally – but there are also a significant number of new entrants supplying rapid antigen tests who have not had experience in this part of the industry in the past.”

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