Private Covid testing firms have been accused of profiteering with charges that can add up to £1,000 to the cost of a family of four’s summer holiday.
The firms are charging up to £300 for a single PCR test despite the chemical processing costing little more than £20, an investigation by The Telegraph has found.
The cheapest companies on the official list of Government-approved firms are charging as little as £60 for providing PCR test results within a day.
But the most expensive companies on the list are four times that price and five times if you want a 24-hour turnaround for results out of normal office hours at the weekend.
It is the difference between adding £1,000 to a family of four’s summer holiday abroad and a potentially more affordable charge of £240.
Every holidaymaker returning to the UK from May 17 will have to take a PCR test on or before the second day of arrival even when travelling back from a green list country – and people coming from amber or red list countries will have to take two tests, on days two and eight.
Cignpost Diagnostics, a Government-approved testing firm, is among the cheapest, charging just £60 for a PCR test at Gatwick and £80 at Heathrow, Birmingham and Edinburgh airports. It works with the Scottish FA, PGA golf, ATP tennis, Netflix and other businesses to provide PCR results in four hours.
Unlike most other companies, it has its own mobile laboratories and technical staff which means it does not have the same bureaucracy and can cut costs while still making a “modest” profit.
Nick Markham, co-founder of the company with Scottish immunology professor Denis Kinane, said his business model had cut out the “middle man” and believed some companies were profiteering.
“If we can do it for £60 and £80, you get an idea of the sorts of margins that other people are charging. PCR doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to take a long time to get the results,” said Mr Markham.
It follows plans by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, to drive down the cost of PCR tests. Firms are on average charging twice the price of the cheapest, at around £130 a test, according to an analysis of 70 Government-approved companies by The Telegraph.
Mr Shapps said he would remove any private testing firms that were “profiteering” from the official Government list of providers that travellers have to use for their PCR tests.
“I will be driving that cost down in the next few weeks and remove providers if they are not playing ball because I don’t want to see people being ripped off,” said Mr Shapps.
Separate figures obtained by The Telegraph show PCR tests cost about £128 on average in the UK, double the average of £62 across eight of the most popular European holiday destinations.
One of the most expensive tests seen by the Telegraph was offered by the London-based 107 Harley Street clinic, which charges £225 for a weekday test or £300 for a weekend appointment.
Professor Kaveh Shakib, the clinic’s director, denied the company was profiteering, saying the service was aimed at a “VIP” clientele, “99 percent of whom didn’t even enquire about the price”.
He said: “In our clinic the test is done by doctors or very senior band nine nurses and we return the result within four to six hours. We provide a personal service and nobody has to use it.
“Our clientele are not price conscious, they tend to be VIPs or celebrities who don’t want to wait around in waiting rooms or tents. They pay for an individual service and we are not shy about it. You get what you pay for.”
A testing laboratory’s costs generally comprise the investment in the testing technology with a PCR machine costing a six-figure sum, technicians to do the analysis and medical staff to swab the patients, and the chemical reagents costing around £20 needed for the process.
For most companies offering PCR services, the laboratory testing is the biggest single bought in cost.