Updated 29 June 2020
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 5 and over 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)
Tests for essential workers are prioritised over the tests available for the wider public through the NHS.
See the guidance below on testing for care home residents and workers.
Arrange a test if you’re an essential worker
The self-referral test booking route is available for essential workers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The employer-referral test booking route is available for essential workers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
You should be able to choose between a test site appointment and a home test kit.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with:
- 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 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.
We’re establishing a network of drive-through and walk-through test sites.
Watch a video explaining the process for drive-through 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:
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
- 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.
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
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.
Workers with symptoms
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:
Carers and nurses who will be swabbing residents in care homes should complete the online care home swabbing competency assessment before carrying out swabbing.
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
- guidance on Randox testing (PDF, 2.99MB, 24 pages)
- guidance on non-Randox testing (PDF, 4.5MB, 37 pages)
- guidance on non-Randox testing (Scotland) (PDF, 2.37MB, 22 pages)
- guidance on non-Randox testing (Wales) (PDF, 2.28MB, 20 pages)
- how to use Randox test kits (PDF, 1.34MB, 2 pages)
- how to use non-Randox test kits (PDF, 564KB, 2 pages)
- suggested template for recording resident tests (ODT, 11.3KB)
- suggested template for recording staff tests (ODT, 10.3KB)
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