Why are people turning to private coronavirus tests?
With growing frustration at the Government’s failure to begin testing anyone other than front-line NHS staff and those already ill in hospital for coronavirus, increasing numbers of people are looking for a private alternative.
As growing numbers of key staff self-isolate, possibly unnecessarily, some are turning to private mail order tests to see if they can get the all clear to go back to performing their duties.
How do I get myself a private coronavirus test and what do they cost?
There are a number of private clinics and laboratories offering home testing kits for people who want to know whether they have coronavirus.
Summerfield Healthcare is offering one of the cheapest tests, with prices ranging from £199 to £299. The Private Harley Street Clinic is selling a home testing kit for £395 which also covers nine other respiratory viruses, including flu.
Are firms profiteering?
Some firms have been accused of profiteering from the high demand for tests caused by the pandemic, but they say the cost has been driven up by the increased price of components, delivery, packaging and distribution.
Dr. Mark Ali, who runs the Private Harley Street Clinic in London, has taken orders for more than 7,000 tests at £375 each. He said he had donated 100 tests to the N.H.S. and rejected accusations of profiteering, saying he was offering a badly needed service.
Summerfield Healthcare increased the cost of one of its home delivery Covid-19 testing kits from £149 to £249, citing increased demand and supplier costs.
How do they work?
Mail order services provide a throat and nasal swab for customers to use before sending on to a laboratory for analysis.
Most tests are based on the detection of small amounts of genetic material specific to the virus, using a method called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). These can take several days to provide a result, although it is hoped that new technologies will come on board to speed up this process.
Alternatively, small proteins from the virus (antigens) can be detected which provide a more rapid, but less accurate answer.
Are there enough tests kits currently available?
Several labs which offered private tests during the initial days of the outbreak are now starting to supply the NHS for its own testing needs, creating a backlog for private users.
AlphaBiolabs, based in Cheshire, said that although it had hundreds of orders from employers to test their workforces, in order to “to keep supply chain businesses operational”, it had decided to supply all its initial stock to the NHS at cost price.
How long before I get a result?
Results are promised within days of receipt of an individual’s samples, though in some cases customers are being advised that due to “a high volume of requests” there may be longer delays. County Antrim based Randox Laboratories, which also conducts tests for a number of other private clinics, is understood to be increasing its capacity so that it can begin to process 5,000 tests a week.
Do private tests work?
Public Health England(PHE) advises the public to avoid “rapid, at-home coronavirus tests” because there is “little information” on their accuracy or their “suitability for diagnosing COVID-19 infection in a community setting”.
PHE warns that it is not known whether either a positive or negative result from these tests is reliable.
It says it has begun evaluating a number of commercial tests but has yet to approve any.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has also warned that unlicensed and unsafe coronavirus tests could flood the market as fraudsters seek to cash-in on the pandemic.
Will my employer accept the results of a private test?
Many employers are understood to be cautious about accepting the results of private tests, given questions over their reliability and the risk of a member of staff ‘cleared’ as not having the virus still passing it onto others in the workplace.
Edwin Morgan, Director of Policy at The Institute of Directors, told The Telegraph: “Public Health England haven’t been advocating the use of home testing kits, and company directors will be taking their lead from official guidance.
“Employers have a duty of care to their people, and will also be trying to be as responsible as they can to help prevent the spread of the virus. Inevitably there will be grey areas, and companies will have to make what they consider to be the best decision in these very difficult circumstances.”