Britain’s Covid-19 swab-testing system has been crumbling this week as cases are surging and hundreds of people say they can’t get tests even though they are ill.
Faced with a dead-end online booking system or directions to tests hundreds of miles from home, many are losing faith in NHS Test & Trace altogether.
But there are other ways to get tested. Websites run by private firms are offering in-clinic and DIY home tests for people wanting to speed up the process.
They come with a hefty price tag, however, with the most costly coming in at an eye-watering £350 for a swab done by a medical professional.
Although they’re likely to be very similar kits, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged members of the public not to take private tests.
He said in Parliament yesterday: ‘We don’t recommend any private tests that are not signed off and verified and therefore we’re providing tests, as many tests as we possibly can with a growing capacity.’
A move away from the national testing programme could allow new cases to go under the radar and get missed from official data, while there is a risk of profiteers selling tests that give inaccurate results.
Some of the UK’s top paid-for healthcare providers, BUPA, HCA and Babylon among them, are not offering swab tests to people unless they’re going into hospital, with Babylon instead directing people to the NHS programme.
Below are some of the tests available online. All are nose-and-throat swabs the same as the ones used at drive-in test centres:
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged people in the UK not to turn to private testing and to use the national – free – system being run by the Department of Health, but many people are facing long waits, long drives or are unable to get tested at all (Pictured: A queue of people outside an official testing centre in Manchester yesterday)
London Doctors Clinic – £189
London Doctors Clinic will send people a DIY swab test which is used to diagnose Covid-19 for £189 each, including postage.
The company says it is using the same nose-and-throat swab tests used by the NHS Test & Trace programme, and that they are ‘approved by Public Health England’.
Official testing centres have used more than one type of test since setting up, with the biggest players those made by the companies Randox and ThermoFisher.
The company claims its test is 98 per cent sensitive – meaning it correctly identifies 98 out of 100 people who have coronavirus – and 100 per cent specific, meaning it does not wrongly diagnose people who don’t have the virus.
It says the results are available within three days of the test being posted back to the lab.
Assured Screening – £109
Assured Screening says its tests can detect more than 95 per cent of positive results
Assured Screening, a pharmaceutical lab based in County Durham, offers home testing or tests at a centre in the North East of England.
The test centre is located, aptly, in Barnard Castle – the Durham town where Government advisor Dominic Cummings was seen breaking self-isolation rules by going for a drive to ‘test his eyesight’.
For people who live out of range of the lab, home tests can be done in a process that turned around within 24 hours of receipt seven days a week, the company says.
Its tests are more than 95 per cent sensitive and 100 per cent specific, Assured Screening says, and it uses machines developed by big-name testing companies Qiagen, Roche and Thermo Scientific.
Assured Screening, a company offering private coronavirus tests, is based in Barnard Castle, the County Durham town where Government advisor Dominic Cummings was famously caught breaking self-isolation rules
Private Harley Street Clinic – £250-£350
A website called Private Harley Street Clinic offers tests for up to £350.
Customers can order home test swab kits for £250, which are posted out, or have a home visit from a medical professional for £350.
The company, which has a clinic and laboratory on the famous medical street in west London, says it can provide people with test results the next working day, between 20 and 48 hours.
It says the tests are ‘the same used by Public Health England’ but does not name the kit. The website says they are 70 per cent sensitive – meaning 30 out of 100 infected people will be wrongly told they do not have the virus.
The tests are 100 per cent specific, the site claims, showing that the false positive rate is ‘negligible’.
DocTap – £129
Another London-based private clinic, DocTap, offers swab tests and ‘fitness to travel certificates’ for £129 but these can only be taken in person in the city.
DocTap says it can offer ‘PHE approved’ tests and get people their results within three days.
The swabs are done at one of seven testing sites around London or they can be sent by post – mail order kits may take up to a week to complete, from order to result.
The test is a DIY self-swab that people must use on their nose and throat themselves, or they can pay an extra £15 to have a medical professional do it for them.
DocTap’s service appears centred around certifying people ‘fit to fly’ if they test negative for the virus, and offers certificates to prove someone’s Covid-free status.
Some countries, such as Cyprus, now require these certificates to prove travellers do not have the virus before they are allowed into the country.
The company does not make clear the type of test it uses, nor how accurate it is.
Doctorcall – £160+
Doctorcall claims its test is ‘highly reliable’
Doctorcall, also a clinic based on Harley Street, offers swab tests for coronavirus for upwards of £160.
A home test, sent by post, costs £160 and is reportedly processed at ‘the largest private accredited laboratory in the UK’, with results returned within three days.
The company recommends people take the test within five days of starting to experience symptoms of Covid-19.
Doctorcall also offers in-clinic tests to people who do not have symptoms, and home visits from doctors. A doctor’s visit is charged on top of the £157 test fee.
The website does not name the test it uses or say how accurate it is, other than to say it is ‘highly reliable’.
CityDoc – £175
CityDoc offers Covid-19 swab tests to people either by mail order or at clinics in London.
Tests done in clinics return results the next day, CityDoc says, while postal kits will take approximately three days after it is posted back to the lab.
People can order up to 10 tests at a time for £175 each and they are certified for proving people safe for foreign travel.
CityDoc says its test is 99 per cent accurate.
London Global Practice – £315
London Global Practice, a private healthcare provider, offers same-day swab testing for £315 a go.
The tests can be ordered online and sent out by courier on the same day for people to do the swabs themselves at home. Each order includes a video consultation with a a member of staff who tells the customer how to do the test.
The company says test results can be confirmed on the ‘same day’ if the samples are received by 7am.
It does not reveal the accuracy of the test nor name the product.
Medinow – £125+
Medinow markets its test with the fact the clinic is regulated by the Care Quality Commission
Medinow, a private medical services company, allows members of the public to buy home testing kits for Covid-19 or a visit from a health professional to do the test.
The home test costs £125, while the price for the visit is not advertised.
Medinow says its tests are 99.9 per cent accurate and its results will be produced around two days after the sample is received by the laboratory by post.
The firm requests that customers contact staff directly to discuss have a test done by a medical visitor to their home or office. The price is not advertised.
Private Coronavirus Tests – £149
Private Coronavirus Tests’s service claims to be 100 per cent accurate
Private Coronavirus Tests appears to be a website set up solely to sell swab tests.
The kits cost £149 each and claim to be 100 per cent accurate, although it is not clear what company they are produced by.
The company claims to be ‘a laboratory set up by NHS registered GPs and consultants to provide easy access to pathology testing services’.
Results are returned within two to three days, the website says, and it offers discounts for NHS staff.