Francis Ingham to lead new self-regulatory body for much-criticised COVID-19 testing firms

Six private sector COVID-19 testing firms have launched a self-regulatory body in an attempt to counter the reputational issues around their operations and profits.

Francis Ingham will bring his reputational experience to bear on his new role for the LTIO
Francis Ingham will bring his reputational experience to bear on his new role for the LTIO

The new organisation, called the Laboratory Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO), will have PRCA boss Francis Ingham as independent director, leading its executive committee.

Ingham told PRWeek: “I was asked to take this position because of my reputational and self-regulatory experience. Responsible, accurate and affordable COVID-19 testing is vital for our country, so it’s a role I assume with great enthusiasm.”

The LTIO says it aims to create a gold kitemark accreditation process to raise standards across the industry.

It follows a warning from the competition watchdog, the CMA, that PCR test providers risk enforcement action over misleading price advertising and failures to deliver results on time.

Last month, amid growing criticism from customer affairs groups and cross-party MPs, the watchdog said it would look at what “immediate actions” the Government could take to clamp down on the high costs of PCR tests required to travel abroad.

Health secretary Sajid Javid claimed he was determined to protect consumers from “exploitative” practices. He said: “Too many providers are acting like cowboys and that needs to stop.”

Membership of the LTIO is open only to those providers that accept a code of conduct based on the recent CMA letter sent to all providers of COVID-19 testing. In addition, membership will be open only to organisations that score 3.5 or above on the independent Trustpilot rating website.

The founding members of the LTIO are BioGrad (currently rated 3.4 on Trustpilot), Cignpost Diagnostics/ExpressTest (4.5), Halo Verify (4.3), Medical Diagnosis (3.6), Project Screen by Prenetics (4.0) and Qured (3.9).

Ingham said: "The laboratory and testing industry has an important part to play in helping Britain navigate successfully through the pandemic. This new professional body is designed to set, enforce and raise the standards of service for our customers.

"The public has a right to expect testing companies to provide accurate, timely and competitively priced services, and that is what the LTIO aims to achieve."

Last month Paul Charles, chief executive of PR consultancy The PC Agency and campaigner for the travel sector, said ministers had been “asleep at the wheel” on the issue.

He told the BBC: “This is an industry that has grown up, that’s worth some £700m. It’s grown up in the last six months at great speed, but there’s been a lack of oversight or proper regulation.”

In a joint statement today, the six founder members of the LTIO explained the rationale for establishing the new body.

"We have been increasingly concerned by reports of exploitative pricing and poor performance by some COVID-19 testing providers. We strongly support the actions by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Competition and Markets Authority to ensure that the public receive their test results in a timely manner and with transparent pricing. We believe that it is right for the industry itself to take action to deliver the testing standards that the public deserves during the pandemic."

The LTIO has an advisory board composed of its six founding members and an executive led by a non-industry director.

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