Government ‘considering scrapping free Covid tests to save money’, report suggests

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Government ‘considering scrapping free Covid tests to save money’, report suggests

Ministers are mulling whether to stop providing free universal access to coronavirus tests amid concern at their cost, according to a report.

Having poured tens of billions of pounds into its Test and Trace scheme, the government currently offers free PCR tests for those with Covid-19 symptoms, while also footing the cost for quicker lateral flow device (LFD) tests for anyone who needs one.

But a report suggests that, ahead of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget later this month, a change to the current system is being discussed in the spending review negotiations taking place between the HM Treasury and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

“It’s agreed that universal access isn’t sustainable or necessary given high vaccination levels,” The Daily Telegraph cited a Whitehall source as saying.

“We now need to decide what the parameters should be that reasonably qualify access to free testing.”

The Treasury and Cabinet Office favour changing the system soon while DHSC and Downing Street are more cautious ahead of the possibility of a surge in cases in the coming months, according to the paper, which reports that Boris Johnson will have the final say on the matter.

Approached for comment, the Cabinet Office and Treasury both declined to comment.

The Department of Health pointed The Independent to the government’s winter Covid plan, published in mid-September, which states: “Over autumn and winter PCR testing for those with Covid-19 symptoms will continue to be available free of charge.”

It adds: “At a later stage, as the government’s response to the virus changes, universal free provision of [lateral flow tests] will end, and individuals and businesses using the tests will bear the cost.

 

“The government will engage widely on the form of this model as it is developed, recognising that rapid testing could continue to have an important, ongoing role to play in future.”

Asked about the report by the Daily Record, a Scottish Government spokesperson said there were “no plans to end the universal offer of lateral flow tests”, adding: “They are vital in helping break the chains of transmission, by helping us identify people without symptoms but who could pass on the virus.”

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