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    Covid-19: where to get tested

    7 December 2020

    Many families are having difficult conversations at the moment about how to manage their Christmas celebrations, and a common question being asked is whether it is best to have a Covid test before turning up at the family home.

    At first glance this may seem like a reasonable option but as with all things related to this virus there are caveats here. Although the Prime Minister has recently encouraged people planning to spend Christmas with elderly relatives to take a rapid turnaround test, such testing for asymptomatic people remains unavailable on the NHS for much of the country.

    It remains the case that for most people free NHS tests are only available for those taking part in pilot schemes, who have been asked to have one by health professionals, or in people or families showing symptoms of the virus.

    This means that some people are now looking to private providers to get tested ahead of Christmas and although many such providers are offering tests for a fee now, how do you know which are high quality and which should be avoided?

    For a start, always look for a home test kit that is CE-marked as this shows it meets the European standards for medical testing and is also approved for sale in the UK – do not use any test without this approval mark.

    Time your test

    Remember that, because the virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days, it’s possible to receive a negative test result today (and be infectious) and a positive one tomorrow. One way of being more careful here is to have two negative test results taken eight days apart but this obviously significantly increases the cost.

    The Covid-19 virus does not have a calendar or take a festive break, and we know to our cost that it moves where we do. As a minimum precaution, isolating for two weeks before seeing family members (particularly the elderly or vulnerable) should help to ensure you are not incubating or carrying the virus but there is no simple answer as to what each family should be doing this Christmas and it is up to each and every one to decide what level of risk they are willing to take – however impossible that choice may seem to many.

    In alphabetical order, here are some of the approved private test providers;

    Assured Screening

    This company provides same-day shipping and says you should get results by email within 24 hours. The home swab price is £109 and there is also an option to have a test for travel purposes for the same price. Tests are available here.

    Boots

    The high street store offers an in-store Covid-19 test but this is not designed for anyone who has symptoms of the virus. This in-store test (booked online) involves a swab being taken from the back of the throat and nose, and this is then sent to a laboratory with the results coming back within 48 hours. A negative test result certificate can also be downloaded and the test – which costs £120 – is available to children and adults. Boots say they will also be rolling out a same-day test service in selected stores very soon. Tests can be booked here.

    BUPA

    From the 1st December BUPA have provided a rapid antibody test, meaning you can now find out if you have detectable antibodies to Covid-19 within 15 minutes. The appointment is booked online to take place at one of their health centres near where you live and at this session a finger prick blood test is taken. In addition to receiving the result at the appointment, the results are also sent by secure email.

    A negative result means there is no evidence of previous COVID-19 infection detected in the blood. The cost is £65 but the results and some personal data – such as name and date of birth – may be shared with Public Health England to contribute to the national statistics on COVID-19 so if you do not wish this to occur you should not have this test. Bookings can be made via the BUPA website.

    Lloyds Pharmacy

    Suitable for adults aged 18 and over, this swab test confirms if you currently have Covid-19 and costs £119 including an online consultation. Home delivery and posting back to the laboratory is free but a Royal Mail priority post box has to be used for this. Results are returned within three days. The Private Harley Street Clinic. This is an approved supplier to the NHS and Public Health England but is more expensive than some others, with a home swab test costing £149 plus delivery rising to £250 to go into a clinic and £350 for a home visit in central London. The clinic says it gets 90 per cent of results back to people within 24 hours and all should be returned by 48 hours. Tests can be ordered from the website.