The UK’s Covid-19 cotton swab test system is crumbling this week as the number of cases soars and hundreds of people say they can’t get tests even though they’re sick.
Faced with a dead-end online reservation system or directions to test hundreds of miles from home, many are losing faith in NHS Test & Trace.
But there are other ways to get tested. Websites operated by private companies offer in-clinic and do-it-yourself tests for those looking to speed up the process.
They come with a hefty price tag, however, with the most expensive coming in at £ 350 for a cotton swab made by a medical professional.
While they are likely very similar kits, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged the public not to take private testing.
He said in Parliament yesterday: “We do not recommend private tests that have not been signed off and verified and that is why we offer tests, as many tests as possible with a growing capacity.”
By moving away from the national testing program, new cases could come under the radar and be missed by official data, while there is a risk that profiteers will sell tests that yield inaccurate results.
Some of the highest paid healthcare providers in the UK, including BUPA, HCA and Babylon, do not offer smear tests to humans unless they go to the hospital, while Babylon directs people to the NHS program instead.
Below are some of the tests available online. They are all nose and throat swabs like those used in drive-in testing centers:
Health Minister Matt Hancock has urged people in the UK to refrain from private testing and to use the national – free – system run by the Department of Health, but many people face long waits, long drives or can’t get tested at all (pictured: a line of people outside an official testing center in Manchester yesterday)
London Doctors Clinic – £ 189
London Doctors Clinic will send people a DIY Pap smear used to diagnose Covid-19 for £ 189 each, including shipping.
The company says it uses the same nose and throat swab tests used by the NHS Test & Trace program, and is “approved by Public Health England.”
Official test centers have used more than one type of test since inception, with the largest players being made by the companies Randox and ThermoFisher.
The company claims its test is 98 percent sensitive – meaning it correctly identifies 98 out of 100 people with coronavirus – and 100 percent specific, meaning it won’t misdiagnose people who don’t have the virus.
It says the results are available within three days of the test being returned to the lab.
Insured Screening – £ 109
Assured Screening says the tests can detect more than 95 percent of positive results
Insured screening, a pharmaceutical laboratory in County Durham, offers home or testing tests at a center in the North East of England.
The testing center is, appropriately, in Barnard Castle – the town in Durham where government adviser Dominic Cummings saw self-isolation rules broken by going for a ride to ‘test his eyesight.’
For people who live out of reach of the lab, home tests can be done in a process that usually takes three days, the company says.
The tests are more than 95 percent sensitive and 100 percent specific, Assured Screening says, and it uses machines developed by well-known testing companies Qiagen, Roche and Thermo Scientific.
Assured Screening, a company that offers private coronavirus testing, 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 will be posted, or get a home visit from a medical professional for £ 350.
The company, which has a clinic and lab on West London’s famous medical street, says it can give people test results the next working day, between 8pm and 48pm.
It says the tests are ‘the same as those used by Public Health England’ but the kit is not mentioned. The website says they are 70 percent sensitive – meaning 30 out of 100 people infected are wrongly told they don’t have the virus.
The tests are 100 percent specific, the site claims, showing that the rate of false positive results is “ negligible. ”
DocTap – £ 129
Another private clinic in London, 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 give people their results within three days.
The cotton swabs will be done at one of seven testing locations in London or they can be mailed. They can take up to a week to complete from order to result.
The test is a DIY cotton swab that people have to 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 to be centered around certifying people ‘fit to fly’ if they test negative for the virus, and provides certificates to prove someone’s Covid-free status.
Some countries, such as Cyprus, now require these certificates to prove that travelers do not have the virus before they are allowed into the country.
The company does not clarify what type of test it is using or how accurate it is.
Doctor Call – £ 160 +
Doctorcall claims his test is “very reliable.”
Doctor call, also a clinic based on Harley Street, offers swab tests for coronavirus for over £ 160.
A home test, sent by mail, costs £ 160 and is reported to be processed in ‘the UK’s largest private accredited laboratory’, with results returned within three days.
The company recommends that people take the test within five days of starting to experience symptoms of Covid-19.
Doctorcall also offers clinical tests for people who have no symptoms and doctor’s home visits. A doctor’s visit will be charged in addition to the £ 157 test fee.
The website does not name the test it is using or how accurate it is, other than that it is ‘very reliable’.
CityDoc – £ 175
CityDoc Covid-19 offers smear tests to people by mail order or at clinics in London.
Tests done in clinics give results the next day, CityDoc says, while parcels take about three days after being returned to the lab.
People can order up to 10 tests at a time for £ 175 each and they are certified to prove that people are safe for foreign travel.
CityDoc says its test is 99 percent accurate.
London Global Practice – £ 315
London Global Practice, a private healthcare provider, offers same-day test sticks for £ 315 each.
The tests can be ordered online and shipped the same day by courier, so people can make the swabs themselves at home. Each order includes a video consultation with an employee who tells the customer how to take the test.
The company says the test results can be confirmed on ‘the same day’ if samples are received before 7am.
It does not disclose the accuracy of the test, nor does it name the product.
Medinow – £ 125 +
Medinow is marketing its test with the clinic being regulated by the Care Quality Commission
Medinow, a private medical services company, allows members of the public to purchase testing kits for Covid-19 at home or a visit from a health professional to take the test.
The home test costs £ 125, while the price for the visit is not advertised.
Medinow says her tests are 99.9 percent accurate, and the results will be produced about two days after the sample is received by the lab in the mail.
The company asks customers to contact staff directly to discuss whether a medical visitor is having a test at their home or office. The price is not advertised.
Private Coronavirus Tests – £ 149
The Private Coronavirus Tests service claims to be 100 percent accurate
Private Coronavirus Tests appears to be a website set up solely to sell mop tests.
The kits cost £ 149 each and claim to be 100 percent accurate, although it is not clear which company produces them.
The company claims to be “a laboratory set up by NHS registered GPs and consultants to provide easy access to pathological testing services.”
Results are returned in two to three days, the website says, and it offers discounts for NHS staff.