Guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): getting tested

Guidance on coronavirus testing, including who is eligible for a test and how to get tested.

You can get a throat and nose swab test for whether you currently have coronavirus. This is part of the 5-pillar strategy for coronavirus testing. Testing is most effective within 3 days of symptoms developing.

Who can be tested

The following groups of people can ask for a test through the NHS website:

  • anyone in England and Wales who has symptoms of coronavirus, whatever their age
  • anyone in Scotland and Northern Ireland aged over 5 who has symptoms of coronavirus

The following groups of people can access priority testing through GOV.UK:

  • essential workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • anyone in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over 5 years old who has symptoms of coronavirus and lives with an essential worker
  • children under 5 years old in England and Wales who have symptoms of coronavirus and live with an essential worker (this test must be performed by a parent or guardian)

See the guidance on testing for essential workers and the list of essential workers below.

Tests for essential workers are prioritised over the tests available for the wider public through the NHS.

In England, you can get tested if you’re a social care worker or resident in a care home whether you have symptoms or not. See the guidance below on testing for care home residents and workers.

There is further information available on tests in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Arrange a test if you’re an essential worker

The self-referral and employer referral test booking routes for essential workers are available for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Self-referral

You should be able to choose between a drive-through appointment and home test kit.

Employer referral

The employer referral portal allows employers to refer essential workers who are self-isolating either because they or member(s) of their household have coronavirus symptoms, for testing.

The employer referral portal is a secure portal for employers to use to upload the full list of names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers.

If referred through this portal, essential workers will receive a text message with a unique invitation code to book a test for themselves (if symptomatic) or their symptomatic household member(s) at a regional testing site.

In order to obtain a login, employers of essential workers should email portalservicedesk@dhsc.gov.uk with:

  • organisation name
  • nature of the organisation’s business
  • region
  • names (where possible) and email addresses of the 2 users who will load essential worker contact details

Once employer details have been verified, 2 login credentials will be issued for the employer referral portal.

The testing process

The test involves taking a swab of the nose and the back of the throat, which can be done by the person themselves (self-administered) or by someone else (assisted).

The different ways you can get tested are covered below.

Regional testing sites

We are establishing a network of drive-through regional testing sites.

Watch a video explaining the process for drive-through testing:

Coronavirus tests for essential workers

Home testing

Home test kits can be delivered to someone’s door so they can test themselves and their family without leaving the house. Home test kit availability will be initially limited, but more will become available.

If you have been delivered a home testing kit or have been given a self-test kit at a regional test site, here is a tutorial video that supports the written instructions in your pack, from Dr Amir Khan:

How to take a coronavirus self-test swab

Mobile testing units

Mobile testing units travel around the UK to increase access to coronavirus testing. They respond to need, travelling to test essential workers at sites including care homes, police stations and prisons.

New units are being brought into operation each day.

Satellite centres

NHS capability is being increased by providing test kits directly to ‘satellite’ centres at places like hospitals that have a particularly urgent or significant need.

NHS facilities

Testing within an NHS facility such as a hospital is available for patients and some NHS workers.

Across all these testing methods, there is a network of couriers who collect the completed samples and deliver them safely to one of our laboratories. The swab samples are analysed at our labs and the result is communicated back to the individual.

We aim to return test results within 48 hours of a swab being taken, or within 72 hours for a home test.

Care home residents and workers (England only)

If a care home suspects a resident has coronavirus symptoms

You should contact your local Health Protection Team (HPT) if:

  • you suspect your care home has a new coronavirus outbreak
  • it has been 28 days or longer since your last case and you have new cases

Your HPT will provide advice and arrange the first tests.

For testing in other situations, you should apply for testing kits following the instructions below.

How to test care home residents and workers

You can apply for coronavirus testing kits to test the residents and staff of your care home. You can apply whether or not any of your residents or staff have coronavirus symptoms.

This testing is currently only available in England.

At the moment, you can only get tests if your care home looks after older people or people with dementia.

Workers with symptoms

Care home workers with symptoms should be self-isolating and can access testing through the self-referral or employer referral portals, above.

See a visual guide to adult social care testing (PDF, 68.4KB, 1 page).

Information about testing kits

There are 2 types of test kits delivered to care homes:

  • Randox test kits
  • all other types, known as Kingfisher test kits

The test kits look similar and test for whether someone currently has coronavirus in the same way. You will be told which test kits you will be using when you receive confirmation of your delivery. All of these kits are throat and nose swab tests and will tell a person whether they had coronavirus at the time the test took place. They cannot tell a person if they have had coronavirus in the past.

Watch a video on how to administer nasal and throat swabs for residents:

Coronavirus test tutorial for care homes with Dr Sarah Jarvis

Carers and nurses who will be swabbing residents in care homes should complete the online care home swabbing competency assessment before carrying out swabbing.

Individuals can register at www.genqa.org/carehomes or care home managers can create an organisational account by contacting info@genqa.org.

Documents for care homes using the online application portal

List of essential workers and those prioritised for testing (England only)

  • all NHS and social care staff, including:
    • doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff, including volunteers and unpaid carers
    • the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector
    • those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributors of medicines, and medical and personal protective equipment
    • NHS Blood and Transplant frontline staff (blood donation staff, specialist nurses for organ donation, staff running therapeutic apheresis services in NHS hospitals)
    • those providing ancillary support to NHS workers (such as hotel accommodation for NHS staff)
    • personal care assistants
  • essential public services staff, including:
    • prisons, probation, courts and tribunals staff, judiciary
    • religious staff
    • charities and workers delivering critical frontline services
    • those responsible for the management of the deceased
    • journalists and broadcasters covering coronavirus or providing public service broadcasting
    • public health and environmental staff, such as specialist community public health nursing
  • public safety and national security staff, including:
    • police and support staff
    • Ministry of Defence civilians, contractors and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of critical defence and national security outputs and critical to the response to the coronavirus pandemic), including defence medical staff
    • fire and rescue service employees (including support staff),
    • National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas
    • British Transport Police and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency
  • transport workers, including:
    • those who keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the coronavirus response
    • those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass
  • education and childcare workers, including:
    • support and teaching staff
    • social workers
    • specialist education professionals
  • critical personnel in the production and distribution of food, drink and essential goods, including:
    • those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery
    • those critical to the provision of other essential goods, such as medical supply chain and distribution workers, including community pharmacy and testing (such as PHE labs), and veterinary medicine
    • workers critical to the continuity of essential movement of goods
  • local and national government staff critical to the effective delivery of the coronavirus response, or delivering essential public services, such as the payment of benefits
  • public and environmental health staff, including in government agencies and arm’s length bodies
  • funeral industry workers
  • frontline local authority staff and volunteers, including
    • those working with vulnerable children and adults, victims of domestic abuse, and the homeless and rough sleepers (and hotel staff supporting these groups)
    • voluntary sector organisations providing substance misuse treatment
  • utilities, communication and financial services staff, including:
    • staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure)
    • the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage)
    • information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the coronavirus response
    • essential staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 essential services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors

Read the privacy notice on coronavirus testing for essential workers.

Published 15 April 2020
Last updated 2 June 2020 + show all updates
  1. Added documents for care homes: 'How to use Randox test kits' and 'How to use non-Randox test kits'.

  2. Two documents have been replaced with updated versions to reflect the new courier collection process for care homes: 'guidance pack for care home managers on non-Randox test kits (e.g. Kingfisher)' and 'guidance pack for care home managers on Randox kits'.

  3. Added that NHS testing for children under 5 years old is only available in England and Scotland.

  4. Added that children under 5 years old in Wales who have symptoms of coronavirus and live with an essential worker can now be tested.

  5. Updated to reflect that essential worker testing is available in Wales, and that testing for 5-year-olds with symptoms of coronavirus and living with an essential worker is available in England only.

  6. Added that children under 5 years old in England and Wales who have symptoms of coronavirus and live with an essential worker can now be tested.

  7. Added a link to book a drive-through test appointment if you have a verification code.

  8. Added information on the NHS testing service for people with coronavirus symptoms.

  9. Amended wording on what to do if a care home suspects a resident has coronavirus symptoms and how to test care home residents and workers. Added updated version of the visual guide to adult social care testing.

  10. Added information on testing for care home residents and workers (England only).

  11. Added unpaid carers to list of essential workers and those prioritised for testing (England only).

  12. Added personal care assistants to list of essential workers

  13. Updates have been made to the 'Who can be tested' section for clarity. We're also now testing: social care workers and residents in care homes (with or without symptoms) both to investigate outbreaks and, following successful pilots, as part of a rolling programme to test all care homes, and NHS workers and patients without symptoms where there is a clinical need, in line with NHS England guidance.

  14. Clarified that the new testing criteria apply to England only. Added that anyone with symptoms living with someone who is eligible is themselves also eligible for a test.

  15. Added categories to list of people who can be tested.

  16. Updated to reflect that test booking routes are now available for essential workers in Northern Ireland, and updated employer referral requirements.

  17. Updated to reflect that test booking routes are now available for essential workers in Scotland.

  18. Updated the list of essential workers and added information on when more testing kits and appointment slots will become available.

  19. Added guidance for essential workers and employers about arranging a test, including a link to the self-referral service.

  20. Added updated list of essential workers.

  21. Updated with expanded list of frontline workers eligible for coronavirus (COVID-19) testing in England and information on the different test options that are being developed.

  22. First published.