Surge in demand for private Covid-19 tests as health service struggles

Queue at a Malaga private clinic.
Queue at a Malaga private clinic. / F. S.
  • Despite data that shows the number of tests carried out regionally is low, the Junta de Andalucía says it is testing as much as it should do

The long queues at public health centres that greet people worried they have Covid-19 is forcing more and more to turn to the private sector to get tested and treated, or at least to find out if they need to be.

The surge in the use of private clinics comes as data shows that Andalucía is among the regions carrying out the least PCR tests. The Junta de Andalucía has said it is carrying out as many tests as it needs to.

Not only are there many people waiting to get seen at public health centres, but also the time to get results back can be a problem, particularly as a suspected case has to stay off work until the result comes through.

Private centres have therefore seen a steady increase in their testing business. Prices range from 30 euros for the cheap, quick tests, that are least reliable, up to 200 euros for the more reliable PCR serological test, although the average is about 150 euros.

There has been criticism of the high prices though. Beatriz Escolar, owner of the Bioclon laboratory in Malaga, defended the charges. "They always talk about how much a test costs, but nobody asks us how much the equipment has cost us to analyse the tests, nor do they take into account that we've had to up staffing levels, double up shifts and pay for protective equipment at sky-high prices."

Even local authorities are resorting to the private sector. Malaga's municipal bus company has given all its staff private tests and unions have warned of "creeping privatisation".

Denial that test rates are low

The Junta has defended its track record on the rate of testing in the Andalucía region. Data up to 8 October shows that the average testing rate in Spain was 230.16 PCRs per 1,000 since the start of the pandemic, while Andalucía is at 135.49. The position is better for the faster, less reliable tests, where Andalucía is at 50,42, closer to the national average of 52.8.

The Junta has said tests are being done in Andalucía at the rate "that they ought to and need to be", following health professionals' recommendations. Patricia Navarro, Junta representative in Malaga explained that for every positive confirmed by PCR, some 500 tests are being carried out.