AIMS--To assess the current range of prices charged for gentamicin assays in United Kingdom laboratories; and to examine the laboratories' likely response to increases or decreases in the demand for the service. METHODS--A postal survey of the 420 members of the Association of Medical Microbiologists was used to establish the range of prices charged for aminoglycoside assays. Additionally, eight private institutions were contacted to determine what the private sector was charging for aminoglycoside assays. Reagent costs in the NHS laboratories were calculated by dividing the total cost of all aminoglycoside assay kits by the number of samples analysed. RESULTS--The NHS and the private institutions both showed a wide price variation. Prices charged to an in-hospital requester for a peak and trough assay ranged from 5.00 pounds to 68.20 pounds (n = 44), and to an external private hospital, under a bulk service contract, from 5.00 pounds to 96.00 pounds (n = 47). Prices charged by private laboratories ranged from 49.00 pounds to 84.00 pounds (n = 8). There was a log linear correlation in the NHS laboratories between the reagent costs per assay and the number of assays performed per year, and most laboratories thought that their price per assay would be sensitive to increases or decreases in demand. Laboratories which had purchased their assay machines had lower reagent costs per assay but higher repair and maintenance costs. Overall, number of assays performed and method of payment for assay machinery only accounted for 44.8% of the observed variation in assay kit costs. CONCLUSIONS--The price range for gentamicin assays in the United Kingdom is wide and is only partially explained by the number of assays performed. Most laboratories believe that they would experience a reduction in unit cost as output increases. The currently offered range of prices is, in part, due to variation in the laboratories' approach to costing the service provided and some laboratories charge prices which do not even cover the cost of assay kits. Overall, we believe that prices charged should be as close as possible to the marginal cost of the tests performed.
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