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How to use an NHS PCR test for coronavirus (COVID-19)

PCR tests are sent to a lab to get the results.

There's separate information on how to use a rapid lateral flow test, the test that show you the result on a device that comes with the test.

Before doing a PCR test

You should do the following before you do the test:

Information:

Test kits that are already registered will have a ‘Registered Kit’ label on the outer bag. If you have an order confirmation email, this will also tell you if the test kit is already registered.

Only use the test kit registered to you or you will not be sent a result.

If you need help to register or do the test

Watch a video showing how to do a PCR home test on YouTube

Find step-by-step guides to doing a PCR test at home, including easy read and translated versions: GOV.UK: PCR home test kit instructions

You can call 119 (free from mobiles and landlines) if you need extra support. Lines are open every day, 7am to 11pm. 119 provides support in 200 languages.

SignVideo is a free online British Sign Language interpreter service for 119.

You can use the free Be My Eyes app to get help from trained NHS Test and Trace staff. Download the app, go to Specialized Help and select NHS Test & Trace in the Personal Health category.

Give feedback about your test kit or report harm

If any part of your test kit is damaged or missing, do not use it. Call 119 to get a new test kit.

If you’ve been harmed or had a reaction using the test kit, report it as soon as possible.

Find out how to give feedback about your test kit or report harm on GOV.UK.

The main steps for doing a PCR test

You'll be given detailed instructions with your test kit.

These are the main steps for doing a PCR test:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser.
  2. Clear, clean and dry a flat surface then lay out all the items in the test kit.
  3. Blow your nose and wash your hands again or use a hand sanitiser.
  4. Open your mouth wide and rub the swab over both your tonsils (or where they would have been) at the back of your throat. Do this 4 times on each side.
  5. Put the same swab inside your nose (about 2.5cm up or until you feel some resistance) and wipe the inside of your nose.
  6. Put the swab facing down into the tube and screw the lid tight.
  7. Put the tube in the bag provided.

Taking a sample may be uncomfortable and make you gag, but it should not hurt.

Doing a test on someone else

If you're doing a PCR test on someone else, it might help to:

  • talk them through the steps
  • try to remain calm
  • get another person to help you
  • use a torch to see their tonsils (or where they would have been)
  • get them to say "ahhhhhhh" loudly so you can see their tonsils

Stop doing the test if the person becomes distressed.

It's important to use a separate test kit for each person.

Important

If you cannot swab their tonsils, you can swab both nostrils instead. The test result may be less accurate than a nose and a tonsil swab.

Sending the test to a lab

You should only post completed test kits in a Royal Mail priority postbox. Do not take it to a Post Office or post it in a non-priority postbox.

Page last reviewed: 12 May 2022
Next review due: 26 May 2022