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 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 portalservicedesk@dhsc.gov.uk with the following information:

  • 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 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.

Test sites

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 tests

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

See instructions on testing for coronavirus at home in accessible formats.

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.

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 homes

England

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 graphic summarising testing for care home staff and residents (PDF, 175KB, 6 pages).

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

Scotland

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.

Wales

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

Northern Ireland

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 pha.dutyroom@hscni.net 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.

See a graphic summarising testing for care home staff and residents (PDF, 175KB, 6 pages).

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.

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:

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.

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

See separate lists for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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

Read the privacy notice on coronavirus testing for essential workers.

How-to videos

Published 15 April 2020
Last updated 22 January 2021 + show all updates
  1. Added information on testing in care homes in Northern Ireland.

  2. Added information about Lateral Flow Antigen Tests.

  3. Added how-to videos section, including 'how to take a coronavirus self-test swab', 'how to test a child for coronavirus', 'how to test care home residents for coronavirus' and 'how to test people in a mental health or learning disabilities care setting'.

  4. Updated to remove information on rapid swab (lateral flow) tests.

  5. Updated with information on asymptomatic testing and other recently introduced testing.

  6. Updated 'Care home testing guidance for residents and staff: PCR and LFD (England)' to add information on using handheld scanners and registering tests in bulk.

  7. Under 'List of essential workers and those prioritised for testing in England', amended transport workers section to add border workers, those critical to EU transition and those supporting the operation of critical transport and border infrastructure through which supply chains pass.

  8. Under 'List of essential workers and those prioritised for testing in England', added workers critical to EU transition.

  9. Updated 2 documents: 'Care home testing guidance for residents and staff: PCR and LFD (England)' and 'Graphic summarising testing for care home staff and residents' to reflect new policy on staff testing with lateral flow devices (LFDs).

  10. Updated 'information about testing kits' and added updated guidance documents 'graphic summarising testing for care home staff and residents', 'care home testing guidance for residents and staff: PCR and LFD (England)' and 'how to use PCR test kits'.

  11. Added links to lists of essential workers prioritised for testing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

  12. Under ‘who can be tested’, added examples of people who may be offered a test without symptoms. Under ‘test sites’, added that test sites are open 7 days a week.

  13. Updated link for 'book your courier collection'.

  14. Updated 'guidance on non-Randox testing (England)' to reflect latest guidance and clinical advice.

  15. Updated the 'graphic summarising testing for care homes' to reflect latest guidance and clinical advice.

  16. Replaced 'graphic summarising testing for care homes' with updated version that reflects that individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 should not be included in testing until after 90 days of their initial onset of symptom or, if asymptomatic when tested, their positive test result.

  17. Small amendment made to how to register a home test kit for clarity.

  18. Added 'students on clinical placements' to list of essential workers and those prioritised for testing (England only).

  19. Added link to register a home test kit before a hospital procedure.

  20. Added link to register a home test kit.

  21. Removed suggested templates for recording resident and staff tests because they are no longer required.

  22. Updated following attachments to reflect updates to the registration portal: 'guidance on non-Randox testing (England)' and 'how to use non-Randox test kits'.

  23. Added a return label for returning recalled Randox test kits to the 'Documents for care homes using the online application portal' section.

  24. Added 2 documents to the 'home testing' section: 'coronavirus home test: step-by-step guide' and 'coronavirus test guide: how to test on a child'

  25. Updated section 'Regular testing in care homes (England)' to state that the remaining CQC-registered adult care homes (for those aged under 65) will be able to register for retesting from 31 August. Added 2 new attachments for care homes: 'graphic summarising testing for care homes' and 'care home testing: information sheet for care providers'.

  26. Updated to reflect that there is now a single GOV.UK testing service for people who have symptoms and want to get tested.

  27. Updated to reflect that under-5s in Scotland can now access testing. Eligibility for NHS and essential worker testing is now the same across the UK.

  28. Updated 2 documents in section 'Documents for care homes using the online application portal': 'guidance on Randox testing' and 'guidance on non-Randox testing'. These have been updated to reflect changes to clinical guidelines that people testing positive will need to be retested after 6 weeks. The 'guidance on Randox testing' document also includes a note to say that Randox test kits should not be used for testing until further notice.

  29. Added link to information on problem with Randox test kits, requiring all settings to pause the use of these test kits.

  30. Updated to reflect that children under 5 years old can now get tested in Northern Ireland.

  31. Replaced 2 attachments: 'guidance on Randox testing' and 'guidance on non-Randox testing'. The changes reflect the new retesting programme for care homes, including how often staff and residents should retest. The sections in the guidance that talk about next steps for positive testing patients have been removed. Instead, people are directed to Public Health England guidance in the ‘Future advice’ section.

  32. Added information on regular care home testing (retesting) in England.

  33. Updated 2 attachments to reflect changes to the registration system for these testing kits: 'guidance on Randox testing' and 'how to use Randox test kits'.

  34. Replaced all non-Randox guidance documents in 'Documents for care homes using the online application' section to include the updated prelabelled instructions for England, Scotland and Wales.

  35. Replaced the following attachments with updated registration link: 'guidance on Randox testing' and 'how to use Randox test kits'.

  36. 'Drive-through appointment' has been changed to 'test site appointment' in the 'Arrange a test if you're an essential worker' section. 'Drive-through regional testing sites' has been changed to 'drive-through and walk-through test sites' in the 'Test sites' section.

  37. Added guidance on care homes testing in Wales and a new attachment: 'guidance on non-Randox testing (Wales)'. Replaced 'guidance on Randox testing', 'guidance on non-Randox testing' and 'how to use Randox test kits'.

  38. Added attachment: 'guidance on non-Randox testing (Scotland)'.

  39. Added guidance about testing care home staff and residents in Scotland.

  40. Added information and link to book a courier collection for used testing kits in care homes. Replaced 'guidance on Randox testing' and 'guidance on non-Randox testing'. Removed: '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.'

  41. Added documents for care homes: 'How to use Randox test kits' and 'How to use non-Randox test kits'.

  42. 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'.

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

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

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

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

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

  49. 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.

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

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

  52. Added personal care assistants to list of essential workers

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

  60. Added updated list of essential workers.

  61. 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.

  62. First published.