Committee Questions Cost of Testing

Evidence submitted to the Public Accounts Committee suggests that the gov was projecting making a profit on the testing of travellers to the island.

The committee was hearing the evidence of DHSC interim CEO Kathryn Magson when Speaker Juan Watterson raised the issue of an email sent in July last year, which he said it ‘appears’ that Ms Magson was ‘probably one of the authors of’.

Quoting the relevant section of the email, he said: ‘The cost to accommodate an assumption of 300 travellers per day are estimated at £1.5m per annum in terms of testing. That would be £1.1m for tests, £250,000 for swabbers and £150,000 for microbiology staff and at a charge of £50, this would provide about £5.4m per annum in income.’

Mr Watterson added: ‘So from that Council of Ministers paper it would appear that the Council of Ministers is making a 300% at least markup on charging £50 per test to the Manx public?’

Ms Magson said she didn’t have that paper in front of her and ‘can’t recall the contents of the whole paper’. 

She added: ‘But as I’ve explained, the £50 actually didn’t come from those calculations, it came from what we expected to pay, what we were paying and we were still paying in the UK on a tariff based arrangement and then a view around what we thought the cost of swabbing and also the 111 system was and that actually wasn’t that far off the £50, it was pretty much around that number and that was discussed and agreed with the Treasury in line with the tariff arrangement we had with the UK. So that £50 came from that and I don’t recall any further information around that paper.’

Mr Watterson, seeking further clarification on the costs, said the committee was ‘not aware’ that tests were being sent off island in July of last year.

Ms Magson added: ‘We used the £50 and I am really clear, the £50 came from using, looking at, because we have no way of costing this at the moment, we were still in a precarious position and actually we looked at what the tariff based arrangement that we would be paying and that was a good representation of what it would be costing us, just for pathology element and then all the elements itself, so that was how the £50 came about.’

However Mr Watterson again said that the CoMin paper which he read out ‘does have it costed at £1.1m for tests, £250,000 for swabbers and £150,000 for microbiology staff, so clearly it has been costed and it was costed in July 2020 and at 300 travellers a day, the Council of Ministers approved the paper that would say you would make £5.4m in income and it was going to cost you £1.5m to actually run the system for a year’. 

Ms Magson replied that the income ‘doesn’t come to the department’ and said she couldn’t remember the paper or the context behind it and that it ‘may well have just been the cost of the swabbers themselves and what we were needing in relation to Covid contingency against what we were currently paying’ and said she would have to look into it in more detail.

She added: ‘But I am clear about how the £50 came about, which was linked to the temporary arrangement and was that reasonable? I think it’s also fair to say that actually that is a reasonable cost in relation to what many people pay in lots of different places for a gold standard PCR test.’

But the Speaker wasn’t satisfied and said the gov was appearing to charge ‘market rate for something we were actually seeming to get a lot cheaper because of the way that we were able to handle it on the Isle of Man’.

Ms Magson repeated that she didn’t have the put with her and was not in a position to discuss it until she had studied it and the context around it.

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