Healthcare bosses call on UK government to withdraw vat on PCR testing for air travel


British healthcare company Salutaris People has called on the UK Government and Transport Minister Grant Shapps to withdraw its charging of VAT on the costs of PCR testing for air travel. The company claims that the withdrawal of the 20% Government tax “is the right thing to do” and would pass on savings to airline passengers and consumers.

In a further move, the private healthcare and medical company – which provides Covid-19 PCR testing – has also called on all the major laboratories processing PCR tests to demonstrate transparency over their ‘true-costs’ and pass on equivalent cost reductions to Covid testing companies for equal parity.

Salutaris People is the clinical lead partner in one of the UK’s first rapid PCR test facilities at a UK airport. The healthcare company is working in partnership with the Test Assurance Group (TAG) and Liverpool John Lennon Airport to offer rapid on-site PCR tests. The express testing suite – which has its own on-site laboratory at the airport – provides clients with a rapid PCR test and certificate in 1-3 hours under Fit to Fly. It also provides other testing services including Test to Release and is expected to announce shortly that it will also be able to offer 2-day and 8-day testing. It is one of the only airports in the UK able to do this, compared to the normal 48-hour turnaround for PCR tests.

Salutaris People is committed to bringing the price of PCR testing down both from the Government and the laboratories, so that it can pass on the benefits to its customers when air travel resumes after the 17th May. Commenting on his call for VAT to be abolished, AKEA Life MD Ben Paglia, clinical partner to Salutaris People said:

“The Government have set the standard of Covid testing for air travel, with PCR tests being mandated as the ‘gold standard’ in the safe resumption of air travel. It is only right and proper therefore that the Government does charge VAT on PCR testing. By lowering the costs of PCR tests, this would also make air travel affordable again. It would also make a difference to the price that the consumer pays, reducing PCR test costs.”

Responsible and trusted healthcare companies like Salutaris People are on average paying 50-60% of their test costs over to laboratories. To then provide a professional service with high clinical standards, Salutaris People then has the costs of providing qualified and trained healthcare staff, expensive medical insurances, building and infrastructure costs, equipment and staff PPE costs.

But critically Salutaris People believe that the price of PCR tests charged could be reduced even further by all of the major laboratories. Whilst some laboratories have publicly announced they have dropped the price of PCR test kits to £60, AKEA Life MD Ben Paglia believes this was a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. He believes that the laboratories were forced into reducing the cost of the home test kit to appease the Government and avoid a media backlash over the obscene costs being charged. This decision followed the comments made by Transport Minister Grant Shapps who said that the price of PCR Covid testing set by these companies was far too high.

AKEA Life MD Paglia said:

“As a healthcare company, we are transparent in everything we do. It is clear that the laboratories have been making vast profits at the expense of the public and airline passengers and test providers since the pandemic started. If a laboratory can drop the price of a test from £120 to £60 overnight, then that would suggest that there is sufficient margins to offer the same discount to all of their customers. We are saddened to see that the saving given to the airlines has not been passed on to the medical customers, who have been working hard on the front line with Randox since the beginning of the pandemic delivering testing services and patient care. It leaves us in the difficult position of appearing to the public as though we are increasing prices and profiteering and that simply isn’t the case. It has left us with no alternative but to move to a lab that is transparent on prices and interested in a true partnership, which delivers healthcare and testing services with the customer first and foremost.

The Government needs to hold an enquiry and questions really do need to be asked about precisely how much the tests actually cost and the vast sums of money being made by these companies. All businesses must make a profit and that is understood, but it is about being fair and reasonable. I am calling for greater transparency on the true cost of these tests, in order for us all to deliver better value and care for whoever needs these tests in the UK market.

Airline passengers and the public have every right to be angry when they see such blatant profiteering. The private testing companies like Salutaris People have been on this journey from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic providing testing services in a clinical environment with trained healthcare staff. Despite offering these home delivery PCR test kits to the airlines at £60 per test, the laboratories have not passed down the same savings to us as medical customers so that we can in turn pass on reductions to our customers.”

Paglia also went on to state that the price reduction down to £60 for the ‘home-delivery’ PCR kits offered to airline passengers was setting a dangerous precedent and not providing a comparative service to that administered by healthcare professionals.

“We are not comparing ‘like-for-like’ here. A PCR test which is self-administered is very different to that of one being administered by a healthcare professional. Effectively what the laboratories and airlines are doing is sending a PCR home test kit to an airline passenger to self-test, with that comes several fundamental flaws and issues.

It has been well documented and reported that someone using a postal PCR test could find themselves in a situation where there are delays with their test results coming back or worse still those results getting lost in the post. This would then mean having to take another PCR test incurring further costs to the consumer. If the delay is close to departure, that would almost certainly mean the airline passenger would have to take the most expensive express PCR test option as well. At the very worst they could miss their flight and/or have their holiday ruined with even greater costs.

In the case of PCR home test kits where the test is self-administered, there is a high incidence of ‘unclear’ postal tests being returned by the labs as the airline passenger taking the test at home has not done the swab test properly. There is a significantly greater proportion of test results returned ‘unclear’ when self-administered, as opposed to those being done by a trained healthcare professional.

Often, a number of ‘unclear’ tests can also be affected whilst in transit in the post system and the way in which they are transported. We have an onsite laboratory to do same day 1-hour rapid PCR tests or 24-hour PCR tests. We have a dedicated courier service for our ‘back-to-lab’ service.”

AKEA Life – founded by healthcare entrepreneur Ben Paglia – is a CQC registered 5-star private GP medical business, providing the UK’s first fully private concierge medical service of private doctors, health care professionals and nurses. The practice also retains a Covid 19 Consultant Virologist to advise on all Covid 19 related matters. AKEA Life clients have included and range from private individuals, football clubs such as Liverpool Football club, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and businesses such as IAC Automotive, Lift Financial and Bentley Manchester. It has also provided private Covid 19 testing for several TV and film companies including a number of Hollywood actors filming on location in the UK.

Salutaris People MD Ross Tomkins added:

“Covid-19 laboratories that return an ‘unclear’ test result do not provide a refund. Both AKEA Life and Salutaris People have a discretionary policy of refunding customers where our service is at fault.

PCR home test kits are also open to abuse where another person could be ‘standing-in’ and taking the PCR test in someone else’s place. This leaves a very real threat that someone presenting with Covid symptoms may feel the urge to manipulate their PCR test result in favour of a negative test result.

When a person physically presents themselves for testing at an AKEA Life / Salutaris People test suite, we personally check their identity documents against the person before swabbing.”

The healthcare company is on the UK Government’s approved list of Covid-19 test providers. Salutaris People will have 5 test suites operational by the end of this month, including Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Wilmslow in Cheshire, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Stockton-On-Tees and Sunderland. These sites will provide Covid-19 PCR testing for all airline passengers in the North East who want to fly from Newcastle International Airport and Teesside International Airport. Both the Liverpool and Wilmslow sites will provide PCR testing for airline passengers wishing to fly from Manchester Airport and Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Salutaris People currently administers PCR testing by trained healthcare professionals in purpose-built test suites. Customers can elect to take the test and receive results and a certificate in 1-3 hours (Liverpool John Lennon Airport) or a same day and 24-hour service from the Liverpool and Wilmslow test suites. Its test suites in the North East of England will offer 24-hour service. Test costs are priced at £110 for a 24-hour PCR test, with £175 for a same day rapid PCR test. This allows an airline passenger to travel from any UK airport.

Salutaris People and AKEA Life believe that the public and airline passengers are looking towards established and trusted healthcare/testing providers. As the UK Government seeks to regulate Covid-19 test providers under the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), AKEA Life and Salutaris People have signed up to UKAS and welcome the Government’s move to regulate the industry. Salutaris People is on the UK Government list of Covid-19 test providers, while Akea Life is a CQC registered 5-star private GP medical business.

Salutaris People was formed in 2020 by healthcare entrepreneurs and disruptors Ross Tomkins CEO (Therapy Direct, Normedica) and Ben Paglia CEO (Akea Life) who joined forces. Combining more than 30 years of collective expertise in the healthcare and medical sectors, they wanted to develop a trusted healthcare brand and become a provider of Covid-related medical services. The company provides a range of medical services, including PCR Covid-19 testing for businesses, private individuals and airline passengers. It also supplies rapid antigen and rapid antibody testing for UK businesses and remote telemedicine services for both business and the general public.

Akea Life, in conjunction with its healthcare partners Salutaris People, Therapy Direct and Normedica, are also offering a unique Covid-19 Concierge Service to clients by bringing private Covid PCR testing to their location. A trained healthcare professional from Akea Life will come to a private residence, hotel or location and administer PCR tests. The tests are then couriered back to the mobile laboratory facilities, providing express PCR results within 1-3 hours along with its express 24-hour testing. The company also plans to offer this service across the UK in other key locations and airports.