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Govt sheds light on LFT procurement after TG presses for answers

The Gibraltar Government on Monday provided details of how it purchases Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) following pressure from Together Gibraltar, which called for clarity over the procurement process for this key element of Gibraltar’s Covid-19 response.

The Government, which until now had not responded to earlier questions from journalists about the procurement of LFTs, dismissed any suggestion that it was making money from the tests, which it stressed were provided free of charge at the Midtown drive-through.

In a statement and separately in response to questions from this newspaper, No.6 Convent Place said the GHA purchased the majority of LFTs at a cost of £5.40 per test from Francisco Navarro, a commercial pharmacist based in La Linea.

Quick importation of the LFT shipments was handled by Gibraltar-based agent Basewell Ltd, No.6 said, adding this did not increase the price per test.

Recently, Family Pharmacy had also supplied a small number of LFTs to top up the GHA’s stock levels.

“There is an 'on-demand' agreement with both of these suppliers which allows the GHA to be entirely flexible in the quantity and terms of the supply of the LFTs based on need and demand,” No.6 told the Chronicle.

“This also allows the GHA to spot purchase LFTs of the appropriate quality if they became available at a more competitive price, as demonstrated with the recent purchase of LFTs from Family Pharmacy at 20p per unit less.”

“The GHA is constantly monitoring prices and will change suppliers if high quality tests can be obtained at a reduced price.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the GHA has received to date some 850,000 LFTs, purchased at a cost of around £4.6m over the past two years.

The GHA currently has 114,000 LFTs in stock. It uses a brand called All Test, described as “the highest sensitivity and specificity test” that the GHA has been able to source at the most cost-effective price.

Previously the GHA used a brand called Innova but a worldwide shortage of these tests meant it had to source an equally accurate and reliable test.

CONTROVERSY

The row over LFTs comes after local pharmacies were allowed to offer supervised LFTs, with one pharmacy offering the tests at a price of £30.

The government had been under pressure to allow the sale of LFTs to people wishing to test at home, much as happens in other countries.

But it has resisted that pressure, insisting supervised testing offers more reliability.

In Spain, the tests can be easily purchased and the price is capped at just under three euros. In the UK, the tests are available free from pharmacies for registered NHS users.

For Together Gibraltar, the controls on LFTs in Gibraltar and the procurement process raised questions.

The party noted the price differential between Spanish pharmacies and the £5.40 paid for each test by the GHA.

That gap suggested “…the GHA could well be making profits in the region of a 100% mark up.”

The party pressed for details on who was supplying the tests to the GHA and at what prices – the questions the government finally answered yesterday after TG issued its statement.

It noted too that LFTs were not covered by newly-renewed regulations preventing companies from profiteering on Covid supplies.

“If everything is above board, Together Gibraltar asks why this information is not revealed to the public, and why it is that the procurement of lateral flow tests does not fall into the scope of items protected from profiteering,” the party said.

Marlene Hassan Nahon, the Leader of TG, added: “The public deserves full transparency on the mystery of this great mark up on lateral flow tests and why they are not subjected to the same anti-profiteering rules as other Covid-related items.”

But the government dismissed TG’s criticism as “illogical,” insisting: “The Government is not making any money from these tests.”

“We are spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to ensure that our people have as many tests as they need, when they need them free of charge.”

It accused the party of seeking to “raise innuendos of impropriety” while ignoring the reality that the GHA was acting in the interests of the community and providing free tests, both LFTs and the more accurate PCR tests.

The government said it was wrong to compare the cost price paid by the GHA for LFTs with the sale price for the tests in Spanish pharmacies, adding this ignored the fact that Spain, like other governments around the world, heavily subsidised the final price to consumers.

No.6 Convent Place said it was wrong to assume that tests were available for wholesale purchase and exportation at anywhere near the price in Spanish pharmacies.

“Ms Hassan Nahon is unsuccessfully comparing apples and pears,” it said in a statement.

The Government said it sold LFTs to permit-holding pharmacies at the cost price of £5.40. The GHA, it stressed, did not make a profit on these tests.

“What the GHA has done is limit the extra over profit that the pharmacies or clinics can make on the resale of the tests themselves to avoid profiteering, the complete opposite of what Ms Hassan Nahon is implying,” No.6 added.

“At the same time, in Gibraltar the GHA additionally also continues to provide a free testing service, encompassing both LFTs and PCRs, to the public at a cost to the taxpayer of in the region of £8 million for last year alone.”

“This is an additional service that the GHA provides the Gibraltar population at low cost and it offers greater security in the tests because of the quality assurance in the testing process.”

“Indeed, this regime is an enhanced version to what is being offered in other countries where they either provide free or subsidised LFTs only and then the population have to self-test.”

“Providing heavily subsidised LFTs to pharmacies, as Ms Hassan Nahon’s party seem to suggest Gibraltar should do in line with other countries, would only serve to further increase the cost of testing to the taxpayer whilst reducing the cost to pharmacies and to those who choose to pay a private service provider instead of taking a free test at the MidTown facility.”

The Government again defended its decision, based on Public Health advice, not to allow the sale of LFTs for use at home.

It said supervised testing ensured the quality of the test and the reliability of the data, adding “these are scientific reasons and not political.”

It added too that because tests could not be sold over the counter, they were not covered by anti-profiteering legislation designed to safeguard the public from unreasonable prices on essential products.

The Government said private providers able to conduct LFTs under a permit incurred costs over and above the £5.40 that they paid the GHA for the test kit itself.

“It is up to the service provider to decide on the price they charge for the service, which the consumer can choose to use or not,” it said.

The Minister for Health, Samantha Sacramento, added: “This Government strongly disagrees with the entirely incorrect and improper insinuation from Ms Hassan Nahon’s party that the taxpayer should pay even more for LFTs by way of subsidies so that some can conduct their own tests at home instead of taking a free test at the GHA’s drive through facility.”

“We all hope we are at the tail end of this pandemic and the current, remaining restrictions.”

“Ms Hassan Nahon should consider what is best for Gibraltar as a whole at this stage instead of pandering to the demands of a selfish minority.”

“It is also regrettable that a parliamentarian completely fails to understand the holistic process and is trying to make political capital by confusing the public with something that she either fails to understand or makes no effort to do so.”

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