A Tory donor and his son are facing questions about two private companies they run offering Covid-19 PCR tests for travellers, amid complaints about poor service.
Rob Davies www.theguardian.com
Dr Ashraf Chohan, founder and chair of Conservative Friends of the NHS, which aims to forge ties between politicians and healthcare workers in the private and public sectors, is the sole director of 1Rapid Clinics, a government-approved Covid-19 testing company that some customers have claimed sent results back late, lost samples and refused refunds.
Chohan’s testing company is just one of a number of private firms with links to the Conservatives. Details of his involvement have emerged amid concern that the for-profit Covid testing regime put in place by the government is on the brink of collapse.
The industry has left a trail of unhappy holidaymakers complaining that the testing kits, or the results from those kits, often failed to arrive as promised, ultimately placing an extra burden on the NHS, which is supplying free tests for those let down by private providers.
The firms typically charge £80-£200 for pre-bought PCR tests that are mandatory for people arriving in the UK, almost twice the price that passengers pay in Europe. It is thought travellers to the UK have spent at least £500m on PCR tests from private companies since mid-May.
According to Companies House, Chohan’s 1Rapid Clinics was set up in December 2020 to offer traveller-testing including PCR tests for £70. The company received a string of negative ratings on the customer review website Trustpilot in May, the month that international leisure travel became legal again. At some point, the company’s name on Trustpilot was changed to 92 Workbooks. More than half of the ratings are marked “bad”, a worse performance than other testing companies’ Trustpilot ratings reviewed by the Observer. More recent reviews, which appear on Google against the 1Rapid Clinics name, are much more positive.
The doctor-turned-businessman, who owns a care home company, was previously a significant Labour donor but began giving money to the Conservative party in 2019 and has since given £20,000, as well as sending a £750 hamper to Boris Johnson.
The tweet, since deleted, of Dr Ashfraf Chohan meeting the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab. Photograph: @DrAshrafChohn Twitter account
At the start of August, Chohan posted a picture of himself on Twitter – deleted last week after the Observer contacted him – with the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, saying he had discussed “red lists”. This is thought to be a reference to coronavirus travel restrictions. Raab’s office did not return a request for comment.
Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, which has launched legal action against the government over its handling of contracts with private companies, raised concerns about the testing provided by private firms.
“When things (inevitably) go wrong, it’s the NHS and the public paying the price. Has this government learned nothing 18 months on?”
1Rapid told the Observer it had only been added to the list of approved Covid testing companies after “following the defined normal standard process”. It said complaints were dealt with through normal procedures, and suggested the conversation between the businessman and Raab concerned a “visit to Pakistan for a bereavement”. Chohan has not responded personally to requests for comment.
Chohan is not the only family member with an approved Covid testing company. In April, his son Jamal Chohan set up Quick Clinics to offer tests to returning holidaymakers. His company, previously called Quick Translate, used to offer translation services to people making personal injury claims. Reviewers of Quick Clinics on Trustpilot have complained that test results from the company were delayed or lost, while test kits were missing swabs, with 67% of reviews deemed “bad”.
The company also received positive reviews but some appear to have been added by people connected to it. One positive review was posted on 30 July by a user who shares a name with a person whose LinkedIn profile states that they are an intern at Quick Reporting, also controlled by Jamal Chohan.
Jamal Chohan did not respond to a request for comment.
Negative headlines about the testing system reached fever pitch last week when photos surfaced online showing drop-off boxes run by Randox, the UK’s largest PCR testing provider, overflowing with unprocessed swabs. The Conservative MP Owen Paterson is a £100,000 a year consultant to Randox.
The Department of Health was approached for comment.