Can you pay privately for a Coronavirus test?

9 March 2020, 23:46

Can you pay privately for a coronavirus test?
Can you pay privately for a coronavirus test? Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

So far in the UK, 24,960 people have been tested for the coronavirus - but can you be tested with private healthcare providers?

Currently there are around 100 testing centres in England and every sample is then sent to one of 12 strictly controlled designated PHE laboratories across the nation.

Each of these then reports to one centralised centre in Colindale, north London.

All the testing centres are run by Public Health England (PHE), with no private healthcare companies offering tests under their plans.

Concerns have been raised about the amount of time it takes for test results to be returned to the patients, with some tests not being completed for up to five days, more than double PHE's target of just two.

One nurse told The Guardian this is because of the "sheer volume" of samples they are receiving.

Of those tested so far, 319 people have received a positive result.

Five have died.

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But the growing numbers of people being tested has raised questions about the role private healthcare in the UK has to play.

So far, two private health insurers in the UK- Bupa and Axa - have confirmed they are not currently offering tests for coronavirus.

Both companies say they are following mandated advice from the Department for Health and Social Care that all tests go through the nationalised system.

Recent figures have estimated around 4 million people in the UK use private healthcare, which could potentially lift a huge burden off PHE and the NHS.

Some countries which have confirmed cases of coronavirus have already allowed private healthcare companies to conduct their own tests.

In the US, two private companies, Lab Corp and Quest, have begun to offer private testing.

More than 300 people have been tested positive in the UK
More than 300 people have been tested positive in the UK. Picture: PA

So far 624 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and 22 people have died.

Until last week, every test had to be conducted at a laboratory approves by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But after coming under pressure from local governments, testing guidelines were expanded, allowing the companies to extend their services to clients.

The Trump Administration has deemed the test to be as essential health benefit, meaning Medicaid and Medicare plans will cover the costs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, large employer health plans must cover the costs of preventative testing, but are not required to cover the costs of the testing kits used in America.

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So far in the UK five people have died
So far in the UK five people have died. Picture: PA

And in South Africa, where only one case of the virus has so far been confirmed, private testing started on Monday, for 1,200 Rand each (£57).

All tests have so far been conducted by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), but the guidelines have been relaxed so Lancet Laboratories’ can step in.

Their clinical virologist Prof Eftyhia Vardas says demands for testing is increasing, and all results will still be shared with the NICD.

To try and combat the growing necessity for testing in the UK, some NHS hospitals will be stepping in to shoulder the burden and begin testing samples.

King’s College hospital in London is understood to be among larger medical centres who will begin testing for Covid-19 in the current weeks.

It is hoped that by the NHS stepping in, the UK will be able to double its current testing capability of 2,000 people a day to 4,000.

In comparison, South Korea - which has a population of around 50 million compared to Britain's 66 million - has been able to test up to 15,000 patients a day for the virus.

196,000 people in the country have now been tested, all free of charge, with more than 7,300 testing positive for the infection, and over 50 dying.

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