GPs have raised concerns about anxious patients paying ‘extortionate’ prices for private coronavirus tests after being unable to access the government Test and Trace system.
Online pharmacies and private GPs are among those charging between £140 and £250 to carry out an antigen test for Covid-19.
It comes after Pulse reported that GPs were being inundated by patients unable to get a test as as NHS Test and Trace continued to struggle to meet demand.
Those paying for tests include parents whose children have been sent home from school or nursery but who cannot get a test through the Government online booking system and need to get back to work.
Patient Kate Morris, a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, told Pulse she paid a private GP £320 for two tests ahead of a planned MRI under general anaesthetic for her son after trying unsuccessfully for two days to get on the government website as directed by the hospital.
She felt left with little choice after fearing the appointment which they had waited for for months would be cancelled.
It meant they were guaranteed to have the tests back on time, she added. ‘But of course we’d rather not have been forced to pay and recognise how lucky we were. I’m absolutely furious that the government still hasn’t properly acknowledge how woefully inadequate their testing regime is.’
Dr Liz Pollara, a GP in North London, said: ‘Sadly, current difficulties that many people are experiencing in accessing tests is leaving some to consider paying extortionate prices for privately available tests.
‘I don’t know whether these tests have been validated or are reliable, and equally it is unclear whether these results would link into any contact tracing system.’
She added that on the other side of the coin she was deeply concerned patients who cannot access tests are not self-isolating despite having symptoms because of the loss of income they would suffer.
Dr Jessica Watson, a GP in Bristol, said people being able to access tests if they could afford the price was ‘yet another example of Covid-19 exacerbating inequalities in health’.
‘We are seeing this play out in primary care with patients reluctant to get tested (“it’s not a covid cough”) or unable to navigate the system, for example the elderly, housebound, or vulnerable groups.’
Dr Richard Cook said he knows of patients who have looked for tests privately as access remains problematic.
‘Those prices are ridiculous. It raises concerns about inequalities. The only solution for most is simply to wait, meaning they have to self isolate during that time.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock has set out details for reprioritising access to Covid tests with acute and care staff at the top of the list, and GPs third.
This came after Pulse reported that GPs were unable to work because they could not get hold of tests for themselves or their children.
Mr Hancock said patients should only get tested if they have symptoms or they have been told to by a healthcare professional.
Covid-19 is a notifiable disease and any clinician requesting a test would have an obligation to inform Public Health England.
But Dr Grant Ingrams, a GP in Leicestershire, said he would be concerned about private tests patients had paid for not being followed up.
‘The only reason I can see for a private test is if it is a requirement prior to travel,’ he added.
The Department of Health and Social Care told Pulse that private positive test results reported to Public Health England are included in the official Government statistics, and followed by by NHS Test and Trace.