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Lords echo concerns about private providers of coronavirus tests on the Government’s webpage

22 June 2021

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its weekly report has raised concerns about whether some of the firms on the government list of private providers have the technical or commercial capacity to provide accurate coronavirus tests to travellers.

Evidence in a recent article published by Which? led the Committee to question the way the Government select the private test providers they list on their official website:

  • Which? identified confusing price structures, and highlighted some firms listed did not have the capacity to provide the service advertised;
  • The Committee questioned the current process for including providers on the list published on the website. Their inclusion on the list is based on their self-declaration while a more thorough UKAS assessment of their actual operating standards does not happen until a later stage.
  • Although the Government publish a disclaimer in respect of the providers listed, the Committee concluded that the public would be likely to regard any company listed on the website to be “official” and meeting the minimum standards.

The Committee did not receive a response to the issues raised in the Which? article when it contacted the Department of Health and Social Care and concluded that the House may therefore wish to ask the Minister whether DHSC has taken action to ensure test package pricing is shown in a standardised way, that reflects the Government’s wider policies for the protection of consumers.

All firms on the providers’ list were meant to have achieved full ISO accreditation by 30 June but the Regulations under consideration extend the deadline to 31 August 2021.

They also extend the assessment period for full accreditation from four months to six.

The Committee expressed concerns about the public health implications of lengthening the period during which firms can offer tests to the public, prior to meeting the ISO standard and  suggested the House may therefore wish to ask the Minister whether self-declaration is an adequate basis for inclusion on the list of providers and how frequently DHSC checks non-ISO-accredited firms’ compliance with “the minimum standards”.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said;

These Regulations propose extending the assessment period from four to six months, lengthening the period during which firms can offer tests before they meet the ISO standard. We are already concerned about the potential threat to public health from inaccurate test results if firms are operating before they have gained full accreditation.

“If a firm offering Test to Release tests to travellers incorrectly returns a negative result for instance, an infected traveller could mix freely with the general population.

“We urge the Government to respond to the concerns raised in the report and take steps to address these issues which could have a significant impact on public health and consumer confidence and also raise significant consumer protection issues.”