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Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services

First published:
12 September 2021
Last updated:

Following the resumption of non-essential international travel on 17 May, to help protect public health, all travellers arriving in the UK have been required to undergo a PCR test on their return.

Under our current rules, Welsh residents have had to purchase an NHS test. This is different from the rules for people living in other parts of the UK – they are able to buy tests from other private providers.

We have been concerned about the lack of consumer and public health safeguards in respect of the wider list of private test providers on the GOV.UK website. There have been a number of issues identified, including inaccurate and misleading advertised prices, slow delivery and processing of tests and results not flowing into Welsh systems.

Over the summer we have been working closely with the UK Government and other devolved governments to address these concerns and make progress towards establishing a list of private test providers, which meet mutually-agreed standards and are subject to appropriate oversight and monitoring.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has carried out a review of the market for PCR travel tests, commissioned by UK Government. A report with recommendations for consideration by UK Government was published by the CMA on 10 September. It found that “competition alone will not deliver the right outcomes for consumers” from the PCR testing market and that “a combination of regulation and enforcement is needed”. The report also notes the potential public health risk of an under-regulated PCR testing market and that “few markets have developed so rapidly and had such an impact on people’s lives”.  

The CMA has made a series of recommendations to the UK Government, including enhanced requirements for providers to appear on the GOV.UK website list, comprehensive monitoring and enforcement and sanctions for those which fail to comply.

A UK Government rapid review, carried out at the same time, has resulted in 91 companies being removed from the website and action taken against a further 135. The UK Government has said it plans to carry out regular spot checks and validation checks on prices and publish improved guidance both for consumers and private test providers.

It will also be implementing new legislative standards for private test providers from 21 September, to ensure test results and genome sequencing are processed and reported quickly and within a comparable time period to NHS tests. Providers which fail to comply with the new requirements will be subject to financial penalties.

I welcome the progress that has been made in addressing the significant concerns we have raised with UK Government, especially with the introduction of new regulatory standards on 21 September.

I expect further improvements following the publication of the CMA report and the acceptance and implementation of the recommendations will further improve outcomes.

In light of the new regulations and the impact on standards for private tests, we will make changes to the rules to enable people travelling to Wales to book tests with private sector providers, if they wish, alongside NHS tests. These changes will come into effect from 21 September to coincide with the new standards coming into force in England.

Our strong advice continues to be that people should not travel overseas unless the trip is essential because of the risk of contracting coronavirus, especially new and emerging variants of the virus which may not respond to vaccines.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.