Guidance on coronavirus testing, including who is eligible for a test and how to get tested.
You can get a swab test to check if 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
Anyone with symptoms can get a coronavirus test, whatever their age.
You may be offered a test if you do not have symptoms. For example, if you work in a hospital or care home, if you attend a university or school, or if there is community testing where you live.
Register a home test kit
This advice applies to home swab test kits that are sent to a lab for processing (PCR tests).
Once you’ve taken your sample, you must register it via the link below so that we can send your results to you:
Record a rapid swab test result
If you had a rapid swab test (lateral flow test), you should get your result within 2 hours.
You must report a positive result to the NHS.
You can report your result online or by telephone:
- England, Wales and Northern Ireland: 119 (free from mobiles and landlines)
- Scotland: 0300 303 2713 (charged at your standard network rate)
We also ask that you report negative and invalid results: this helps the NHS to monitor the spread of the virus and support communities across the UK.
You do not need to report the results of tests that are processed at our labs (PCR tests).
If you are about to go to hospital
You may need to get tested if you’re due to have surgery or a procedure.
The hospital will arrange this for you. Contact your hospital department if you have any questions.
Employer referral for essential workers
Employers can refer essential workers for testing if they are self-isolating because either they or members of their household have coronavirus symptoms.
They can do this by uploading the names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers to the secure employer referral portal.
Referred essential workers will then receive a text message with a unique invitation code to book a test for themselves (if symptomatic) or their symptomatic household members at a regional testing site.
To get a login to the employer referral portal, employers of essential workers should email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
- organisation name
- nature of the organisation’s business
- 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 provided for the employer referral portal.
See the list of essential workers below.
The testing process
The first step of taking a test for coronavirus usually 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.
We’ve established a network of drive-through and walk-through test sites for people with coronavirus symptoms. Test sites are open 7 days a week. If you have symptoms you can book a test at a site near you online or by calling 119.
Around 1 in 3 people with coronavirus do not have any symptoms. There are sites being set up where people without symptoms can take rapid tests. Contact your local council, employer or place of study to find out more.
Home test kits can be delivered to your door so you can test yourself and your family without leaving your home.
Home swab test kits that are sent to a lab for processing (PCR tests)
Most people get their result the next day but it can take up to 3 days. Anyone with symptoms can get a test online or by calling 119.
Watch how to take the test in this video: How to take a coronavirus self-test swab
Rapid tests that give a result within 2 hours (Lateral Flow Antigen Tests)
You may be given a rapid test kit by your workplace, university or school. Watch a video on how to take a rapid test, read the result and report your result online.
Getting your results
How and when you get your results depends on the type of coronavirus test you are taking. Follow the instructions that come with your kit carefully to ensure you take the right steps for the kit you’re using.
Get a test if you’re visiting a care home
If you’re visiting someone at a care home, you may be offered a rapid coronavirus test when you arrive. The care home you are visiting will provide you with the test kit. The test can tell if you’re infectious or not within 2 hours.
You’ll also be asked to put on protective clothing (PPE) as an additional step to help protect vulnerable residents. The degree of contact you can have with a care home resident will also depend on the care home’s own regulations and on national restrictions.
Watch a video on what to expect when visiting a care home resident: How to prepare for your care home visit
See guidance below on testing for care home residents and workers.
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.
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.
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.
In England, all registered adult care homes can apply for coronavirus tests.
You should contact your local health protection team (HPT) if:
- you suspect your care home has a new coronavirus outbreak (one or more suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19)
- 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. See a.
For testing in other situations, you should apply for testing kits following the instructions below.
In a care home where there is one or more confirmed case of coronavirus, the local health board must offer testing to all staff and residents regardless of symptoms as part of enhanced outbreak investigations. Testing will be organised by local health board testing teams, using local and NHS Scotland laboratory capacity.
In a care home with no positive cases for 2 weeks or more, the local health board must offer testing to all staff on a weekly basis. Please follow the instructions below to access this routine testing of staff in your care home.
Existing arrangements include testing:
- all residents and staff of care homes with ongoing cases of COVID-19 and any home reporting a new outbreak
- larger care homes registered for 50 or more beds
- all people being discharged from hospital to live in care homes regardless of whether or not they were admitted to hospital with COVID-19
- all people who are being transferred between care homes and for new admissions from the community
This policy has been supplemented by a large-scale testing programme covering all residents and staff across care homes in Wales that have not reported an outbreak or any cases of coronavirus in the last 28 days. It’s being followed up through a weekly rolling programme to test care home staff.
Wales’ policy for testing in care homes will continue to be reviewed and adapted as the scientific evidence changes
A regular programme of COVID-19 testing for all care home residents and staff is in place across Northern Ireland.
All asymptomatic residents will be tested for COVID-19 every 28 days with all asymptomatic staff testing every 14 days.
This applies to all care homes that have no suspected or confirmed outbreak.
If homes have single cases or potential clusters of cases in residents and/or staff, the person in charge of the facility should:
contact the GP of each affected individual case to arrange clinical assessment
contact the Public Health Agency (PHA) duty room on 0300 555 0119 or by email to email@example.com to complete a clinical risk assessment
Read more information on COVID-19 testing in residential and nursing homes in Northern Ireland.
How to test care home residents and workers
You can apply for coronavirus testing kits to test the residents and/or staff of your care home. You can apply whether or not any of your residents or staff have coronavirus symptoms.
Regular testing in care homes (England)
On 6 July, we started rolling out regular testing (retesting) for care homes in England. Retesting involves care homes testing staff weekly and residents every 28 days.
Applications for retesting are now open for care homes caring for the over-65s and those with dementia. The remaining adult care homes will be able to register for retesting from 31 August.
Any specialist care homes that have not yet registered for their initial whole care home tests should still apply on the care home portal to receive their initial whole care home tests.
Care homes will need to re-register on the care home portal to apply for retesting. Applications for retesting are now open for care homes caring for the over-65s and those with dementia.
Workers with symptoms
Information about testing kits
There are 2 types of test kits delivered to care homes:
- polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits known as Kingfisher kits
- lateral flow device (LFD) test kits
PCR test kits should be used to test staff members weekly and residents every 28 days.
LFD tests should be used to test staff on their first day back to work following a period of leave that has resulted in someone missing their weekly PCR test. In this case staff should be tested before they begin their shift.
LFD tests are also used to test visitors and visiting professionals. See the full guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) lateral flow testing of visitors in care homes.
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:
Carers and nurses who will be swabbing residents in care homes should complete the online care home swabbing competency assessment before carrying out swabbing.
Carers and nurses who will be conducting LFD testing on care home staff need to complete the NHS Test and Trace online training. Each home will receive an email with details giving them access to the training portal. Once access if granted, all testing staff are required to watch the training videos and complete the online assessment before they test. Please call 119 if you have not received an email with access details.
Book your courier collection
A courier will collect your used testing kits. These will be taken to a lab for processing.
Book your courier collection by 7pm at least a day before carrying out testing.
Carry out testing on the day of collection.
Documents for care homes using the online application portal
Essential workers and those prioritised for testing
List of essential workers and those prioritised for testing in England:
- all NHS and social care staff, including:
- doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff, including community pharmacists and their staff, students on clinical placements, 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 and EU transition), 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 and border workers, including:
- those who keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the coronavirus response and EU transition
- those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass
- those constructing or supporting the operation of critical transport and border infrastructure 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, 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, the delivery of and response to EU transition, or delivering essential public services, such as the payment of benefits and the certification or checking of goods for import and export (including animal products, animals, plants and food), including in government agencies and arm’s length bodies
- 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