Coronavirus: Where to buy a private test before Christmas

After weeks of uncertainty and speculation about how the festive season will look this year, Christmas family reunions have been given the green light to go ahead.

Earlier this month, the government and devolved administrations agreed a temporary easing of coronavirus restrictions that will allow three households to mix in a “Christmas bubble” from 23 to 27 December.

But while officials have said people are free to spend time together, they have warned that measures should be taken to limit the risk of spreading infection, including opening windows, regularly hand washing and having coronavirus tests.

During an appearance at the House of Commons, prime minister Boris Johnson encouraged people planning to celebrate Christmas with elderly relatives to get tested over the coming weeks.

“In general, the testing system is available at the moment for people who have symptoms,” Mr Johnson said.

”But I would urge people who are worried that they may need to be in the company of those who are elderly or vulnerable to seek to get a rapid turnaround test.“

The prime minister’s comments come despite the fact that NHS testing is not available for people without symptoms in much of the country. So, where can you get one?

Amid increased demand, a number of private services have started offering tests with an almost-instant turnaround for those willing to pay, including high street pharmacy chains Boots and Lloyd’s pharmacy. Meanwhile, a simple web search returns a wealth of companies offering private testing, such as the London General Practice and the Harley Street Health Centre.

Typically, these services offer the standard PCR test (polymerase chain reaction), which uses saliva to determine if the patient has the virus. A swab is taken from the inside of the nose and the back of the throat using a long cotton bud or, in some cases, a saliva sample is requested. Any test provided by a private company must have a ”CE mark” to show they meet all legal criteria.

Some companies carry out tests via clinician home visit or clinic appointment, while there are a number who offer home testing kits, where the user collects the sample before it is sent to a lab.

Here, we take a look at some of the places offering private Covid-19 testing, including how much it costs and how long it takes to get results.

We may earn commission from some of the links in this article, but we never allow this to influence our content.

Boots

To access the test, customers need to fill in a registration form and book an appointment online at a Boots store. During the appointment, a member of staff will swab your nose and the back of your throat, before sending the swab to the laboratory to be tested. Within 48 hours an email will be sent informing the patient their results are ready to view.

The in-store Covid-19 Testing Service (PCR) is suitable for adults and children age five and over. However, it’s not suitable for anyone with symptoms of Covid-19, or anyone who thinks they may have it. In this situation, you should get a free NHS Covid-19 test.

The Boots test, which is 99 per cent accurate, costs £120 and is ostensibly for those who need pre-flight certification or want reassurance before social events. The fee covers third party laboratory testing, courier services, digital services, staff wages and VAT.

The service is already available in a number of across the UK in areas such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The pharmacy has plans to roll out a wider service to over 50 stores across the UK in the coming weeks. Depending on demand and feedback, the launch may extend further to 200 stores.

Boots is also planning to launch a rapid version of the test in the next few weeks, which will be able to process swab test Covid-19 results in just 12 minutes, giving customers same-day results.

Specifically for customers who don’t have symptoms, Boots says this way of testing will help customers to quickly get peace of mind, revolutionising the speed of testing across the UK and reducing inappropriate use of the government testing programme.

Click here to book your test.

Lloyds Pharmacy

Lloyds Pharmacy offers customers two types of coronavirus test. A PCR swab test, which is suitable for anyone who needs to know if they currently have the virus, and an antibody test, which will let you know if you’ve had the virus in the past.

The PCR test works in a similar way to the NHS version, taking a swab from the inside of the nose and the back of the throat. Costing £119, the test is CE-marked and designed to be used at home, meaning you will receive a kit through the post. You will receive prepaid postage and packaging to send your sample back to the lab usually and should have your results within two to three working days of the lab receiving your sample.

Alternatively, the antibody test costs £69 and involves collecting a blood sample. This is also carried out by the customer at home, before being sent to the lab to be tested for Covid-19 antibodies. You can view or download your results from your online Patient Record and Lloyds Pharmacy will let you know as soon as they are ready by email or text.

Click here to book your test.

The Harley Street Health Centre

The Harley Street Health Centre can provide customers with a Covid-19 PCR swab test, which is taken at the clinic, for £175.

Designed for patients about to travel or who are asymptomatic, results are provided by the next day before 8pm and a certificate can be provided at no extra cost. The clinic also offers a premium service with results the next day before 8am for £245.

Alternatively, you can purchase a home-testing kit for £145. The test is carried out using a combined throat and nose swab, which is sent to a lab and processed within 48 hours.

Customers can also get SureScreen instant Covid-19 tests at the clinic for £85, Abbott blood testing for coronavirus antibodies at our laboratory for £129, and a full respiratory viral panel including Covid-19 for £395.

Click here to book your test.

The London General Practice

The London General Practice, based in Harley Street, offers customers same-day PCR tests for £295. The test can be undertaken in the clinic or from your own home, with a same-day courier dispatch. Tests are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and you will have a short consultation prior to the test to discuss its suitability.  

Once ready, one of the practice’s doctors will be in touch to discuss the results with you.

Alternatively, you can opt for the “Rapid Antigen Test”, which tells you if you currently have Covid-19 within an hour. The test is administered by a clinician and costs £295.

Customers can also purchase an antibody tests for £195, which checks to see if you have had the virus in the past. Results are available within 48 hours and can be used as part of Fit to Fly requirements.

Click here to book your test.

Superdrug

Superdrug is now offering tests for £69, however these are antibody tests, meaning they will only tell you if you have previously been infected with Covid-19. The test does not tell you if you currently have coronavirus. 

According to Superdrug, the test ensures 100 per cent specificity, so it won’t give false positive results. However, the test’s sensitivity rating is 97.5 per cent, meaning it can occasionally miss antibodies.

Anyone over the age of 18 can take the test, regardless of whether they have symptoms, but users must wait 14 days before testing if they have early symptoms. The antibody tests are fully accredited and have a CE-MARK.

Customers can place an order for a test online and will be sent a home finger-prick test in the post. The sample is then sent for free to Superdrug’s UK-based, accredited partner laboratory which performs the test. Results are available within 48 hours and will be reviewed by a doctor, who will contact you, via a secure and confidential message in your patient account.

Click here to book your test.

How do I book a government test?

You need to book a test within five days of your symptoms first developing in order for it to be effective. The ideal time is within three days of symptoms first showing.

For people in England there are two choices: you can either go to a regional drive-through centre, where someone will administer the test for you, or do it yourself at home.  

If you are having the coronavirus swab test done at a drive-through service you will need a car, and you need to all arrive in the same vehicle and sit next to a window in the vehicle. You are not allowed to ride a motorbike.

Alternatively you can request an at-home test kit, when the tools will be delivered to your door and you can administer the test yourself in the privacy of your home. You will be asked to complete an identity check to get the test sent out.

You will receive your test results by text message. The government says most people will receive a response within 48 hours but it can take up to five days. While you wait for your results you (and anyone you live with) must self-isolate.

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