Phil Day By Superintendent Pharmacist Published:

The NHS has created a number of ways you can get a coronavirus test, from at home kits to dedicated testing centres across the country, which can help you know if you have coronavirus. Here’s a quick breakdown to help you understand when you should get a test, what it involves and how to book one. 

Who can get a coronavirus test? 

Anyone can get a coronavirus test but not everyone can get a free test. You can only get a free NHS test if you meet at least one of the following criteria: 

  • you have a high temperature
  • you have a new, continuous cough
  • you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste, or it’s changed
  • you’ve been asked to by a local council
  • you’re taking part in a government pilot project
  • you’re going into hospital – you may need to get tested if you’re due to have certain procedures. The hospital will arrange this for you if necessary 
  • you’re a care home manager applying for test kits for the residents and staff of your care home.

You can pay for a private test if you want to be tested out of choice, or if:

  • you’re planning to leave the country 
  • your employer or school has asked you to get a test

When should you get a coronavirus test? 

If you have symptoms, get a test as soon as possible. If you’re in England you should have a test within the first 8 days of having symptoms.

On days 1 to 7, you can get tested at home, but by day 8, you will need to go to a test site – it’s too late to order a home test kit. If you’re ordering a home test kit on day 7, you must do it by 3pm. Test sites are open 7 days a week.

Book a test

If you’re getting a test because you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms, you must self-isolate (along with the rest of your household and support bubble) until you get the results. 

How will the new government rules affect coronavirus testing? 

The Government has announced the Covid Winter Plan for England, when the latest nationwide lockdown ends on 2nd December. Covid-19 restrictions will be returning to the ‘three tier’ system but with some differences.

Those areas of the country who fall into tier 3 will be offered additional support from NHS Test and Trace in a 6 week rapid community testing program. This will give test results within an hour and help to control the virus transmission, which is essential for high tier areas to keep the virus under control and progress to less restrictions. The strengthened testing in these key areas will help to identify and isolate people who do not have symptoms but are unintentionally spreading the virus.

What is a coronavirus test? 

The test involves taking a swab of the inside of your nose and back of your throat, using a long cotton bud. You can do the swab yourself if you’re aged 12 or over, or someone can do it for you. Parents or guardians must do the swab for children under aged 12.

Test results are usually returned within 48 hours of a swab being taken or 72 hours for a home test.

You can register for a home test kit or book a test at a COVID testing site. Keep up to date with the latest NHS guidance on coronavirus here.

Here’s a short video from the Department of Health and Social Care, on how to do your at home test kit:

Please remember the three simple actions we must all do to keep on protecting each other and the NHS: Hands. Face. Space.