COVID-19 testing has advanced in the UK, making it easier for anyone, anywhere to get an accurate test. What are all the different testing options available to you? We’ve compiled everything you need to know.
Find out about:
- Everything you need to know about COVID-19 tests in the UK
- Understanding the different COVID-19 tests in the UK
- Different COVID-19 tests available in the UK
COVID-19 testing in the UK has come a long way. After the first swab test in January 2020, testing for infection was initially reserved for hospital patients and key workers. But today, the NHS tests thousands of people with and without symptoms every day. Scientists and researchers continue to learn from the data, making tests more accurate, accessible and faster.
What COVID-19 tests are available in the UK?
As of August 2020, there are two categories of COVID-19 tests in the UK: antigen testing (the PCR or swab test) and antibody testing. The first lets you know if you have COVID-19. The second lets you know if you’ve had COVID-19 before.
The PCR or ‘swab’ test
This test tells you if you have COVID-19. You or a healthcare professional use a long cotton swab to take samples from deep inside your nose and the back of your throat. The test looks for traces of the virus, more specifically the genetic information (or RNA) specific to COVID-19. These tests can detect RNA before any symptoms show, making them effective at picking up the disease early.
Children and adults living in the UK can access this test for free through the NHS if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone with the virus.
Superdrug are able to offer this test to patients that require a certificate to show they do not have the virus for example if if required to travel. Superdrug do not currently offer the test as part of the Government Test to Release.
The serology or antibody test
This test tells you if you have ever had COVID-19 before. A trained healthcare professional takes a blood sample from a vein in your arm, which they then test for antibodies. Antibodies circulate in blood, making it the best fluid to test. Unlike the swab test, this test doesn’t tell you if you have COVID-19 now. Rather, it tells you if you’ve had the illness in the past and recovered.
Why is this helpful? Governments and healthcare bodies can understand how COVID-19 spreads, how strong immunity is and how long immunity lasts – useful for developing containment strategies, treatments and vaccines.
It may also satisfy your curiosity. Researchers say some 40% of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic (i.e. show no symptoms). You may have had COVID-19 but never known. An antibody test can tell you.
How long do the COVID-19 tests take?
To collect a sample, both tests take between 10 and 15 seconds. Depending on your area, you’ll get a result from your swab test within 12 to 72 hours, and results from antibody tests within two to three days. You need to book all tests online.
What is rapid testing?
Rapid tests are the latest innovation in testing. They are PCR swab tests designed to detect COVID-19 infections faster, within 60 to 90 minutes.
COVID-19 Rapid Testing is currently not available in Superdrug Health Clinics.
The UK government has approved two different rapid tests, which are rolling out in UK hospitals and care settings:
- LamPORE tests: Process swab and saliva samples in traditional and ‘pop-up’ laboratories at the point of care.
- DNA ‘Nudgebox’ machines: Analyse DNA in nose swabs on location.
Private organisations are also developing rapid antibody tests. The AbC-19 Rapid Test by Abingdon Health, for example, uses blood from a finger prick to look for COVID-19 antibodies in 20 minutes, without needing a laboratory. This test recently received its CE mark, approving it for professional use.
Can the COVID-19 tests be done at home?
Currently, all test samples need to be analysed by healthcare professionals. While you can take the swab sample for the PCR test at home, you still need to send it in for results.
For the antibody test, only trained healthcare professionals can take the blood sample. Free antibody testing is available to NHS and care staff, and some hospital patients and care home residents. You might also be offered a free test when having other blood work done.
If you are interested in taking an antibody test outside of a hospital, you can pay for one – such as the Superdrug test – at a private health clinic.
What COVID-19 test does Superdrug offer?
Superdrug healthcare clinics offer both the PCR swab test and serology or antibody test.
The PCR swab test costs £120 and is available in London nurse clinics only.
The antibody test costs £89 and is available to anyone in the UK over the age of 18.
Nurses take a sample it is tested in UKAS accredited laboratories, with results returned in two to three days.
What does a positive COVID-19 test result mean?
On a swab test, a positive result means you have COVID-19. You need to isolate for 14 days and inform those you’ve been in contact with, so that they can isolate and get tested too.
On an antibody test, a positive test result means you have COVID-19 antibodies, so you have been infected before. However – and this is important – it does not mean you are immune to the virus. Researchers are still trying to understand how immunity against COVID-19 works. For the same reason, a negative result on an antibody test doesn’t always mean you’ve never had COVID-19 before. New evidence shows antibodies in some people are short-lived.
In either case, you’re still susceptible to the virus, so continue practising social distancing and good hand hygiene.
Are the COVID-19 tests accurate?
No test is 100% accurate, but the COVID-19 tests are, in general, reliable. Superdrug’s antibody test has a sensitivity of 97.5%, meaning that of 1,000 people who have had COVID-19, 975 will correctly test positive.
Taking the tests at the correct time helps improve accuracy. For antigen, or swab, tests, taking the test within the first three days of showing symptoms gives the most accurate result.
Healthcare professionals recommend taking the antibody test at least 14 days after symptoms start (or two weeks after first exposure to the virus in the case of asymptomatic cases). This is because human bodies typically start producing antibodies eight to ten days after infection.
Should I get a COVID-19 test?
Reliable, accurate and accessible testing is key to squashing the spread of COVID-19. If you think you have – or have ever had – COVID-19, getting tested helps everyone out. The free swab test is the most important one to take. There are over 600 dedicated facilities set up for this test across the UK, making it easier for you to access.