Nearly $28 million has been spent on processing Covid-19 tests in private laboratories - but health officials won't give a company-by-company breakdown of spending.
Currently, labs are paid $70 per sample processed. Officials are reviewing this pricing, including what should be paid when multiple samples are "pooled" and tested together.
The Ministry of Health cited commercial sensitivity in declining an Official Information Act request by the Herald for a breakdown of how much each private lab has been paid.
As of September 15, the total amount spent on lab processing was $61m.
Of that, $27.8m, or 46 per cent, went to private labs. Public labs include science agency ESR and those run by DHBs.
Labs are paid $70 per Covid-19 sample processed, which excludes the cost of swabbing. There have now been more than 930,000 tests, taking the total cost beyond $65m.
"Labs are contracted via DHBs. Generally, tests will go to the lab in or near the location of the testing," a ministry spokesperson said.
The Apex union represents laboratory workers including those in private labs, and in public facilities.
David Munro, the union's laboratory national advocate, said some private lab companies processed thousands of tests a day after the recent Auckland community outbreak.
Fatigue was an ongoing issue for technicians, he said, as many were doing weekend and evening shifts.
"It has pushed a whole lot of work into the evening and weekends, because the testing centres gather all the samples during the day and a courier comes at 4pm.
"This has been treated as the new normal. But it can't go on forever."
Both public and private labs have increasingly used a technique known as "pooling", in which multiple samples (usually between three and five) are mixed together and tested at once. If it comes back negative, all the samples are negative. If it's positive, the samples are tested again individually.
In such instances labs are still paid $70 per sample - meaning $350 for one "pooled" test with five samples.
"The price paid for tests was established early in the pandemic with a review point after six months. Pooling has only been minimally used until more recently," the ministry spokesperson said.
"Pooling generally is used to help manage high volumes or when the laboratories need to conserve reagents.
"The Covid-19 test pricing framework is currently under review. This should be completed by early October 2020. The use of pooling will be considered as part of this review."
Munro said one idea discussed at Apex was whether a new government should greatly expand public laboratory capacity, to the extent where there was little need to use private facilities - a "Kiwi lab" approach.
"Is it time to bring them all back in, and have a national, publicly-run pathology service, rather than all these players who are clipping the ticket on the way through?" Munro said.
"This Government was elected on the basis that public health should be publicly funded and publicly provided."
Meanwhile, ESR is pushing closer towards new types of tests that rapidly reveal whether someone has Covid-19, or how widely the virus is circulating in a community.
In an interview earlier this month, ESR's chief executive Peter Lennox told the Herald his staff were actively looking at saliva tests, along with serology or antibody tests.
Saliva tests could prove more sensitive and effective, and less invasive, than the nasal swabs used in New Zealand.
New Zealand scientists have already suggested border workers could be excellent candidates to use rapid and minimally invasive techniques, such as the SalviaDirect method developed by Nathan Grubaugh and Anne Wyllie at Yale University in the US.
Serology tests are blood tests that could show if a person may have once had been infected without knowing, revealing hidden chains in outbreaks with mystery sources.
Another area being explored by ESR is the potential for wastewater stations to be used for community-level surveillance of Covid-19.