People could be charged for lateral flow tests from next month, government reveals

Free tests only guaranteed until the end of July - despite ‘get tested’ campaign launched in April

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 08 July 2021 07:45

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People could be charged for lateral flow tests from next month, under plans being considered by the government.

The tests are only guaranteed to be free until the end of July, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has revealed.

“A statement will be forthcoming about whether or not it will be extended beyond that,” a spokesperson told The Independent.

Labour immediately condemned the looming rethink, saying it “beggars belief” with a third Covid wave underway and infections set to surge in the weeks to come.

The potential U-turn comes just three months after the launch of a high-profile campaign urging everybody to test themselves twice a week, under the headline ‘Next Step Safely’.

Lateral flow tests were made available from workplaces and places in the community “to encourage a new testing habit” for anyone without Covid symptoms

“Anyone can now access free, rapid lateral flow tests for themselves and their families to use twice a week,” a government announcement read.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “Sajid Javid’s policy of allowing infections to rise as high as 100,000 a day will see hundreds of thousands forced into self-quarantine.

“In that context, access to lateral flow tests will be vital. It beggars belief that the health secretary is introducing charging for testing. We should be making it easier to access to testing not harder.”

But a DHSC spokesperson said: “The government has confirmed that lateral flow tests will be free until the end of July”, confirming the guarantee ends this month.

The government has previously suggested that companies could be expected to foot the bill for testing their staff, but it is the first time that charges for individuals have been suggested.

More than £4bn of taxpayers’ cash was spent on lateral flow tests up until the end of March, as the chancellor Rishi Sunak hunts for savings to plug the gaping black hole in his finances.

Just 14 per cent of the 691 million tests sent out by the end of May were registered, the National Audit Office revealed – with the test-and-trace system in the dark about whether the rest were used.

On Monday, Mr Javid, the new health secretary, admitted new daily cases could soar to 100,000 after remaining Covid restrictions are removed – while one expert warned of a possible 200,000.

Boris Johnson did not dispute that millions of people could be forced to isolate in the weeks to come, as infections mushroom.

The April campaign announced that twice-weekly tests would be available from workplaces, schools, pharmacies, libraries and community centres.

“Regular testing is an essential part of the easing of restrictions, helping identify variants and stopping individual cases from becoming outbreaks,” it read.

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