The UK is reportedly aiming early next year to be ready to start charging for some previously free Covid–19 tests, a step one described as driven by the Treasury’s desire to rein in spending.
The government and health officials have said that rapid testing, via easy-to-use lateral flow tests, is crucial for tracking the spread of Covid–19, with regular testing of those without symptoms identifying around a quarter of all cases.
Under the universal provision, the government has made the tests freely available to order online or pick up from community pharmacies since April, and recommends people test themselves around twice a week.
But with a budget statement later this month, the finance ministry is keen to try to reduce its spending on the pandemic, which is set to hit £407 billion.
Under the so-called winter plan, published last month, the government said it would “continue to provide the public with access to free lateral flow tests in the coming months”.
“At a later stage, as the government’s response to the virus changes, universal free provision of LFDs (lateral flow devices) will end, and individuals and businesses using the tests will bear the cost,” it added.
The government ended free lateral flow tests for businesses in England in July. It is being speculated that steps are being taken to ready a charging system for the beginning of next year for widespread use. Those steps include ensuring that payment capabilities are available on the government’s website at the beginning of January.
It is unclear when the charge would be introduced.
According to the latest available government data, for the week of September 16-22, more than 4.4 million rapid tests of asymptomatic people were registered, of which almost 50,000 were positive.
The Department of Health and Social Care has declined to say what the tests cost, citing commercial contracts but it’s believed they can run to £30 for a pack of seven.
Other European countries have started to charge for the tests including Germany, which was reported to be ending their free provision this month.