/ Money

How much are you willing to pay for lateral flow tests?

The government has announced an end to free lateral flow tests from April. How do you feel about paying for LFTs? How much do you think they should cost?

With free lateral flow tests set to become a thing of the past, testing yourself for Covid-19 could end up costing you hundreds of pounds a year. This could be especially problematic if you’re regularly visiting a loved one in a care home, or taking extra care around clinically extremely vulnerable people.

There will be no price cap on tests and retailers will decide how much to charge, the government confirmed last week. This means a pack of lateral flow tests could soon be added to your weekly shopping bill. 

How much will lateral flow tests cost?

Boots has confirmed customers will be able to buy tests for £2.50, or a pack of four for £9.50. Superdrug will be selling a single test for £1.99 or a pack of five for £9.79. 

If you visited a loved one at least five times a month, this would set you back £117 a year from April – the same month that national insurance tax will be hiked and household bills will soar due to rising inflation.

Charities have warned this will lead to deadly consequences and have described it as a ‘tax on caring’. The current guidance for visiting care homes states you should receive a negative lateral flow test result and report it on the day of your visit. 

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats said it was ‘simply unjust and unfair’ to force people to pay hundreds of pounds to safely visit their loved ones, and could leave vulnerable groups more alienated. 

Since last year people have been able to order a pack of seven lateral flow tests, direct from the government website, and have them delivered for free.

How do you feel about paying for LFTs?

It could be argued that lateral flow tests have never been ‘free’ – they’ve cost the government billions and have come at a ‘significant cost to the taxpayer’, according to the government’s Living with Covid plan. It said the Testing, Tracing and Isolation budget in the 20/21 financial year exceeded that of the Home Office, and the programme cost £15.7billion in 21/22. 

However, is it right that people should have to pay hundreds of pounds they might not be able to afford to visit their loved ones safely?

How much do you think a pack of four/five LFTs should cost?
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Many other countries sell lateral flow test kits including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US. Looking at Walmart, you can pick up a pack of two self-antigen tests for around $17 (£12).

In some European countries the price of a test is capped to keep it down. In Spain this is €2.94 and self antigen tests can be picked up for around €4 in French pharmacies and for as little as €1.25 in supermarkets. 

Do you think the government should put a price cap on lateral flow tests? How much are you willing to pay for them? 

Comments
Margot Tuley says:
2 March 2022

If people have to pay they will not do a lateral flow test

Do pensioners and people belonging to other vulnerable groups get them free, and if not why not?

These days we only hear about Omicron, has the original killer virus gone or is it still circulating out there?

If people have to pay for tests, most of them won’t bother with them that will put vulnerable people at risk. Many carers are unregistered, will they pay for tests?

After two years, why are test-kits still being flown in from China? Why are they not produced here in the UK?

I’m not sure the original virus was a ‘killer’ virus per se, Alfa; it was simply novel, and so our immune systems weren’t primed for it. The common cold could wipe out thousands, were our systems not geared up to prevent such a catastrophe.

Our DNA comprises approximately 10% virus in its makeup, so evolution has incorporated many of the viral threats we face on a daily basis into our existing immune systems. But viruses are mutating constantly and most mutations are non-viable. So we currently face around 70-odd variants, of which currently only two are of concern: Omicron and Delta.

There’s also an interesting aspect of pandemics, which is that they seem to have a shelf life. Throughout recorded history there have a been a variety of pandemics, many of which seem to have featured the usual suspects. But a common factor is that they seem to run their course over a period of not greater than four years. However, in that time many brought down entire civilisations and left a horrendous death toll.

In two years we have moved on greatly and the survival rates of those who have been hospitalised has greatly improved thanks to improvements in management of cases. The ability to test for infection is paramount and this report mentions Covid-free hospital wards: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-60390187

I had to go into hospital yesterday for a short routine procedure and had to test two days beforehand and on the day. That makes sense because not everyone who is infected shows symptoms.

I would suggest that, as alfa says, the virus could be described as a killer, because it was the whole or partial cause of death to over 150 000 people n the UK alone. We did learn better management of cases but the real intervention that made it less lethal was the development and mass roll-out of the vaccines. Without those I expect we would have seen many times the number of deaths, here and worldwide.

I support continuing to provide free tests in the hope that those who test positive will isolate themselves rather than mix with others. There are still around 10,000 in hospital with Covid and apart from the financial cost, it is a large drain on the NHS.

You do know says:
7 March 2022

Why would I need to take a test (of any sort) to tell me I have a cold? I know the symptoms of a cold, I do not need a test for it. Common sense really.

Because Covid may be symptomless but you will still be infectious. I always test before visiting anyone vulnerable and hope they will show me the same courtesy.

Today I have spoken to two people who have tested positive but have no symptoms. It would have been courteous to maintain the requirement to self-isolate if you test positive.

Avoiding contact with others, when you test positive, for most would be common sense. But there are some lacking in that department; I doubt they took, or would take, notice of restrictions. We saw many acting that way during the height of the pandemic.

Rita says:
7 March 2022

I have to do a test before visiting my husband in a care home, I won’t be able to visit as often if I have to pay for test kits, as he pays for his care at present money is already tight.

Anyone with Covid symptoms needs to be cautious to protect others, at least. That is when and why you should test. Covid has not gone away.

Em says:
7 March 2022

Care home managers can order free lateral flow tests, based on the number of care staff employed, residents and visitors. Looking that the various government publications, whose guidance seems to overlap but are also undergoing change, it looks like up to four tests per week can be ordered for visitor testing.

I suggest you ask the care home if they can provide you with tests for your visits. In the mean time, you can still order a test kit every three days, until the 1st of April.

Thanks for that information, Em. It makes a material difference to the tenor of the Introduction to this Conversation which now needs to be revised. It is predicated on the basis that care home visitors will not be able to take a free test. If visitors can test before they set off and then ask for a replacement test kit before departure they can carry on seeing their relatives as frequently as they would like without anxiety and distress over the costs.

@gmartin – Good day, George.

In view of Em’s and my comment above I think some revision of the Intro is required to clarify the arrangements and provision for lateral flow tests for visitors to care homes.

Regards.

Hello. Could you point me to the source for free tests for visitors? Happy to change it but will need to verify of course. At the time of writing this was the information we’d had confirmed: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/22/people-visiting-care-homes-in-england-will-have-to-pay-for-covid-test

Yes, this must be verified. I don’t know the source myself. Em has obviously done some research but mentioned that guidance details were overlapping and undergoing change,

I was hoping this Guidance on Care Home Visiting issued by the DHSC and updated on 24/02/22 would deal with LTF test for visitors but I could not see any relevant information —
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/visiting-care-homes-during-coronavirus/update-on-policies-for-visiting-arrangements-in-care-homes

Em says:
8 March 2022

@George – Various government documents provide guidance for care home managers to follow. Care homes need to carry out daily lateral flow testing of their staff (who can’t be expected to pay for their own tests). I’ll provide a few key extracts here and the post links separately, as they will go into moderation.

Testing in extra care and supported living settings

Summary of testing process in ECSL [Extra Care and Supported Living] settings

Step 1
Testing coordinator receives UON [Unique Organisation Number you will be able to use to order test kits] and orders test kits every 21 days.

Step 4
In all settings: staff complete daily rapid LFT [lateral flow tests] every day they are working before their shift begins.

In ‘high risk’ settings: residents complete monthly PCR tests.

All ECSL settings can distribute LFTs to visitors, and the tests can be undertaken on-site or at home. LFTs can also be used for people being supported in line with government testing guidance.

Em says:
8 March 2022

COVID-19: guidance for supported living

Testing of visitors

Testing is not a requirement for visiting and managers should not refuse visits to visitors who have not taken a test.

All providers who are currently eligible for staff testing are able to access rapid lateral flow tests for the purpose of supporting safer visits. Managers can place an order for tests using their unique organisation number (UON) from the test kit ordering portal. Each setting will receive 4 test kits per person [resident] per week, which can be used to support both visits in and visits out.

Setting managers have discretion to set up their own testing areas, further information can be found in the guidance on rapid lateral flow testing in adult social care settings.

Testing onsite at the setting is preferable for assurance purposes. Where testing will be fully or partly conducted on site, supporting living managers will need to set up a testing area as described in the guidance above. However, recognising that individuals now have access to testing through other routes and visitors may be travelling long distances to visit, managers can allow visitors to provide evidence of a recent negative test undertaken through other means, if the test has been taken that same day.

When considering the most appropriate testing route, managers should consider any additional risks that may arise from testing off-site, as well as the confidence and ability of visitors to carry out tests away from the care home. This may include factors such as:

visitors inaccurately conducting or reporting lateral flow testing themselves

visitors not having a mobile phone or email address to receive the result of their test

Where visitors will be self-testing, managers may wish to supervise the first few tests on site and provide support to ensure visitors are confident conducting the tests at home and they are being completed and reported satisfactorily.

Wherever the test is conducted, it should be done on the day of the visit. Once the visitor has registered the test, they will receive a confirmation of their result by text message (SMS) and email to show proof of result. Proof of a negative result may include an email or text from NHS Test and Trace or a date-stamped photo of the test cartridge itself. Managers do not need to retain records of proof.

All tests done at home should be registered to the UON of the supported living setting and managers should ensure visitors are aware of their UON and their responsibility to report the result. Being able to link visitors to a supported living setting enables public health teams to better support settings to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and prevent outbreaks.

If the visitor tests positive they should stay at home and follow the guidance for people with COVID-19 infection and their contacts.

Em says:
8 March 2022

My interpretation of this (which may be wrong or could change very soon) is that eligible ECSL organisations, as determined by their local authority, are entitled a free allocation of LFTs (lateral flow tests) sufficient to test all their support staff on a daily basis. Residents are not required to take LFTs, on the basis that they are not likely to go out and return, importing infections.

However, ECSLs are also entitled to up to four LFTs per resident per week. These can be used for visitor testing, or to test the resident on return from a visit out.

Also note that “Testing is not a requirement for visiting and managers should not refuse visits to visitors who have not taken a test.”

I’m sure that most visitors would wish to comply, but with an allocation of only four test kits per week, it might seem that daily visits are not possible, particularly if two or more family members want to visit at the same time. A more pragmatic approach would be to take an LFT for the first visit after a period of absence, but not require an LFT for a return visit the following day.

As said in my original post, discuss the arrangements with the manager of the ECSL, and work out an acceptable regime of testing.

SV says:
2 April 2022

What happens when those infected don’t, isn’t it potential ABH or if someone dies as a consequence arguably murder or manslaughter? – And without testing people could be ignorantly wondering about infecting others!

There are currently 10700 or so people in hospital in the UK with Covid, but only 257 in mechanical ventilation beds. Like the reported deaths with Covid, a question is, for how many patients is Covid the primary reason for their admission, and how many are there for other reasons and test positive for Covid?

Chris says:
8 March 2022

Free (to all users) tests are a readily accessible and simple step we can all take to protect others. They do not protect the person tested. Charging for tests is a disincentive for wider public use, and is likely to result in more infections – social conscience has a measurable price – which will have most impact (either directly in illness risk or indirectly through self-preservation isolation) on the most vulnerable. In choosing to end free antigen tests the government is signalling that it regards this as an acceptable social price.

Government has decided in the past that smoking is undesirable and it is banned in enclosed public places because this protects those who have no wish to expose themselves to tobacco smoke. It further encourages smokers to quit through high tobacco taxes, marketing restrictions and the readily availability of smoking cessation aids. It has an NHS funded quit programme which is free to those enrolled on it.

Both policies are indications of government approaches to its wider social responsibilities, and it governs by public consent. Each of us can judge whether the ending of free LFTs indicate a government fully committed to its wider social responsibilities as we emerge from covid.

Many people have behaved responsibly throughout the pandemic and tested to protect family, friends and others when they needed to, whether through feeling ill or visiting vulnerable people. I believe they will continue to test, both from social responsibility and self-preservation, even when they will have to buy tests.

As around 80% of the UK population over 5 are now fully vaccinated the need to do more than occasional tests is unlikely, so the cost of keeping a few in the cupboard should not be great, unlike when testing was, for some, a regular routine. Keeping them free would be likely to lead to unnecessary stocking of tests at considerable cost to the UK, currently with its finances in a parlous state.

The question arises as to how to make kits, that may cost a few pounds, available to those who genuinely cannot afford them. Perhaps there should be a subsidised charge.

I wonder what these kits really cost to produce, and why we have to buy them from China (at least, that is where mine originate). Perhaps someone can tell us what the Government pays for them.

Chris – I fully agree with you.

Given that working people will soon be paying higher National Insurance contributions, and that pensioners and various other categories of patient are entitled to various reliefs and concessions under the NHS, it seems unnecessarily retributive to charge for lateral flow tests while coronavirus remains on the loose.

Nobody takes these tests for the fun of it so putting any obstacle in the way of people acting responsibly and helping to protect the community is a political blunder in my view. The cost of continuing to supply the test kit free of charge – maybe on collection only from pharmacies instead of by first class post – is but a pin-prick in the budget of the NHS relative to all the other costs. And if it saves just one more person from spending time under intensive care or from losing their life it is well worth it.

If this is to be believed, testing costs are not trivial https://inews.co.uk/news/covid-tests-how-much-cost-free-lateral-flow-pcr-testing-limit-plans-explained-1473529

I’d be interested to know just how many take lateral flow tests and whether, if they test positive, they then self isolate. I suspect many are now much more relaxed about Covid – certainly fewer are wearing masks, sanitising, social distancing. Presumably partly down to being fed up with an abnormal life but no doubt mainly because of confidence in the vaccination programme success and the dwindling severity of the virus.

Having just seen Em’s comment about care homes and free tests for visitors, and John’s comment, I am disappointed that this Convo intro may not have been properly researched. I want to see Convos presented in a fair and balanced way, not designed to lead contributors n a particular direction. But if the care home information was only published after the Convo launch I will happily withdraw this comment.

The fewer that are taking the tests the less cost there will be in supplying the kits. I expect responsible people will act responsibly and not demand them unnecessarily or stockpile them. It would not be difficult to control their issue if abuse were to occur.

I am glad that Em has corrected the misinformation about provision for care home visitors as that will relieve many people of an unnecessary worry.

I shall shortly be attending the physical meetings of local organisations and will take a test beforehand, but I am concerned that other participants will not do so because they would have to pay for the test kits.

I have been arguing for years that the NHS should become a preventive service rather than reliant on corrective action at enormous expense and with mixed results. This is a good example of one small step that could have been taken along that path.

Isn’t this rather like relaxing all restrictions, the point at which this should be done? I suspect the benefit vs. harm argument could be used – is more benefit to be gained by using the money for testing for other purposes, against the harm that might be caused by untested people being on the loose? I wonder what evidence exists that shows the benefits of testing in the current environment and at what point, if not April 1st, free testing should cease, or will it go on for ever?

I think a good use for saved money would be to allow annual routine health checks, for people of a certain age perhaps, face to face with a doctor, where not only could they have routine checks but the opportunity to raise issues that they might never otherwise get round to. That might reveal some developing problems at an early stage when treatment is more effective and less expensive, and relieve a potential burden on hospitals.

Chris says:
8 March 2022

Malcolm,

The £2bn Jan figure for testing costs is not typical. To cite it as an indication of cost savings is at best disingenuous. I don’t know what LFTs cost but do know that PCRs cost considerably more. The Jan 22 figures was when measured infection rates were running at close to 100k p.d as measured on mainly PCRs. The figure now is 40% of that. With care we can ensure that it falls further for the next 6 months. If we throw care to the wind it will not decline as fast with a bigger downstream cost next winter.

My point is that the government through its actions signals to the population about public expectations. Removing the requirement for masks, (some impact on infection rates at the margins), distancing, ditto and requirements for indoor public association coupled with the end of free LFT testing and the requirement to isolate together signal the end of the problem and as others more informed than I am have noted, it is not an accurate summary of where we are. We look to government for leadership ……….

I agree, Chris. It is the false signals that I am concerned about. The end of all the anti-Covid measures is not a ‘now or never’ question. A more gradual change is appropriate and my view is that the population has shown remarkable and unexpected cooperation with the vaccination campaign and deserves a continuation of the free testing safeguard, not indefinitely, nor indiscriminately, but for reassurance and as a public health benefit.

I am sure that if the dispense of testing kits was put in the hands of one of the competent logistics organisations the administrative and distribution costs could be greatly reduced. UK manufacture could also be beneficial as orders could be called off closer to demand and production rather than having excess stocks in transit all round the globe.

At present we have over10k in hospital, the latter likely to be a significant underestimate with fewer people testing. Covid is still with us. It is a significant cost to make free tests available but the cost of hospitalisation and treatment of the more serious cases is not insignificant.

We have invested in the drugs that have made a worthwhile improvement in the survival rate of those that have been hospitalised and the vaccination programme.

I asked above about this figure, and whether it represents people in hospital where Covid was the reason for their admission, or whether they were in hospital for another reason and happened to test positive for Covid. Until someone resolves this we do not know how many of those 10702 people would be there anyway, so cannot ascribe a cost to Covid on that basis.

There are undoubtedly many people in the community who are Covid positive, whether they have tested or not. A recent small event I was to attend had 4 people pull out who had tested positive before the day, but were not showing any signs of illness and would be unlikely (hopefully) to need hospital treatment.

Having people infected with Covid in hospital is a risk for staff and other patients even if they do not require treatment for the condition. A good friend who had been self-isolating since the start of the pandemic despite not being vulnerable had to go into hospital with kidney stones, became infected during his stay and suffered as a consequence. Tin my opinion, testing is important to protect the elderly and those who would be at risk of serious consequences if they were infected.

I had to go into hospital for a short procedure last week and I was told to test myself two days beforehand and on the day. I was very happy to comply.

That was not the point being questioned. It was simply whether all 10702 patients in hospital were there because they had Covid, or for other reasons.

I did not refer to your comment, Malcolm. I was agreeing with the comments made by Chris, supported by John.

Here it is said that 30% of people admitted to hospital listed as with Covid are actually there for another reason, and not particularly ill with Covid. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/nhs/index.html

I think it was around about the turn of the year when it was realised that the daily mortality statistics reported in the media were misleadingly giving the number who had “died of Covid” included people who had died of other conditions but “with Covid” and the reports were amended to make that clear although no specific breakdown was given. It possible that there had been an amount of mis-recording of the cause of death in the UK since the start of the coronavirus epidemic.

I don’t know how true it is, but I heard a report some time ago that deaths in care homes were recorded as Covid because care homes could claim money for the ‘clean-up’.

I am not sure that is plausible. The cause of death is determined by a doctor and although it is possible for the doctor to be compromised by affiliation to the care home I doubt many would stake their professional career on the false recording of deaths. Where there was uncertainty over the principal cause of death, it might have been convenient to record Covid as the reason perhaps. I still doubt it happened on a large scale and expect that the majority of care home deaths were correctly attributed to Covid-19.

I don’t know what special money was available for the ‘clean up’. Most care home residents would have been funded either by a local authority, from their own funds, or by family and any special charges would have been added to the final bill. Maybe I am naïve, but, despite all the things one hears about care home managements, I don’t think they are institutionally dishonest. Given what they have gone through I would absolve them of any general unjustified criticism.

Crusader says:
8 March 2022

I’m not sure if a cap on pricing is the right idea, but certainly a good one, what we certainly DON’T need is the appalling entrapment needlessly caused by greedy local businesses who charge FAR too much, way over and above sensible pricing, like that in shops at motorway service stations and train stations etc. like in Preston where they charge more 50 TIMES the supermarket price for spring water for instance, which is blatant extortion! But I think folk on the dole or other seriously low incomes should not have to pay for something so vital, I think LFT’s should be treated like prescriptions, means tested and anyone who wants any LFT’s should have to show that they’re receiving the right benefits to be eligible for free tests, just like I have to show when I go to get my prescriptions. There’s far too much appalling price gouging going on already, like where I live there’s only one hardware shop and they’re charging two or even three times the price you can pay at B&M’s for stuff like paint, or cables etc.

I have no idea how much they should cost as I dont own a company which manufactures them. A more appropriate question is (a) how much should they be subsidised? or (b) should they be provided for free? Over zealous government lockdowns including these over used tests have cost us all billions of pounds already. The answers are zero and no. I would never take these tests even if free. If I have symptoms I’ll do what I have always done when I had flu or a cold in the past.

You do not necessarily have apparent symptoms to be infected with Covid. The advantage the tests gave people, when the pandemic was in full flow, was to test themselves before mixing with other people, particularly those who might suffer greatly if infected by you.

Suzanne says:
31 March 2022

The problem is companies are going to exploit the vulnerable by charging over the odds. it is imperative that these test remain affordable and that the pricing and the number of swabs in each kit is very clear. Some kits are misleading at first glance.