Coronavirus COVID-19 Testing for Frontline Workers in England

Coronavirus COVID-19 Testing for Frontline Workers in England

How to arrange a test, the test itself, the laboratory analysis, and the timescale in which results are returned.


Coronavirus (COVID-19): getting tested

Guidance on coronavirus testing for frontline workers who are self-isolating.

One of the most challenging things about coronavirus is the uncertainty: not knowing who has the infection or when it’s safe to return to normal life. Good-quality testing can help provide us with greater certainty. It’s a big part of how we’re going to defeat this disease.

As part of the government’s 5-pillar strategy for coronavirus testing, we are testing people who have coronavirus-like symptoms to see if they currently have the virus. Our aim is that anyone who needs such a test will be able to have one. But that will take time to achieve. While we are building up our testing capacity at pace, we are offering testing to different groups in a phased approach.

List of people being tested

Our priority is testing patients to inform their clinical diagnosis.

In addition, we are now also testing the following categories of people:

  • all NHS and social care staff, including hospital, community and primary care, relevant staff providing support to frontline NHS services, and voluntary workers. Examples include:
    • clinicians
    • nurses
    • GPs
    • staff in community pharmacy
    • healthcare assistants
    • those providing hotel accommodation for NHS staff
  • police, fire and rescue services, including the National Crime Agency, security agencies, MOD police and the British Transport Police
  • local authority staff, including those working with vulnerable children and adults, with victims of domestic abuse, and with the homeless and rough sleepers. Examples include:
    • adult and children’s social care workers and services
    • all frontline local authority staff
    • staff and voluntary workers in residential care settings for vulnerable children and young people including residential special schools, respite provision and residential special post-16 institutions for young people
    • staff providing home care support to children and young people with special needs
    • child, youth and family social caseworkers
    • voluntary sector organisations providing substance misuse treatment and domestic abuse support
    • public and environmental health staff, including inspectors
  • defence, prisons, probation and judiciary staff. Examples include:
    • defence personnel and the COVID Support Force
    • staff in prisons (adult and youth) and Approved Premises
    • probation staff
    • judiciary
    • operational HM Courts and Tribunal Service staff
  • frontline benefits workers
  • other frontline workers as determined by local or national need. Examples include:
    • medical supply chain and distribution workers (including veterinary medicine)
    • testing infrastructure workers (such as laboratories)
    • workers in the funeral industry and coroners
    • frontline Home Office and Border Force staff
    • Maritime and Coastguard Agency staff
    • critical personnel in the continuity of energy, utilities and waste networks
    • critical personnel in food and drink production
    • workers critical to the continuity of essential travel and movement of goods

These categories apply in England only. Devolved administrations’ lists may vary.

This list is not exhaustive and local and regional areas can refer other frontline workers in their area for testing as determined by need and available capacity.

Arrange a test in England

Any frontline worker in England who is on the above list and would like to be tested should speak to their employer. Employers of frontline workers will be provided with information on how to make an appointment for their staff through their local resilience forum (where the local region chooses to organise testing in this way), their associated national department or agency, or directly through the Department of Health and Social Care.

Any employer that has any queries should contact their local resilience forum, their associated national government department/agency, or the Department of Health and Social Care at

The testing process

The test involves taking a swab of the nose and the back of the throat, which can be done by the person themselves (self-administered) or by someone else (assisted).

In order to test large numbers of patients, NHS, social care and other frontline workers, we have set up a range of options:

    • testing within an NHS facility such as a hospital – this is for patients and NHS workers only
  • mobile testing units are being developed, which will operate out of a regional testing site and travel to offer tests where they are needed
  • NHS capability is being increased by providing test kits directly to ‘satellite’ centres at places like hospitals that have a particularly urgent or significant need
  • a home test kit is being developed that can be delivered to someone’s door so they can test themselves, and their family, as required without leaving the house

Across all these methods, there is a network of couriers who collect the completed samples and deliver them safely to one of our laboratories. The swab samples are analysed at our labs, and the result is communicated back to the individual. We aim to return test results within 48 hours of a swab being taken.

Read the privacy notice on coronavirus testing for critical workers.

Published 15 April 2020
Last updated 17 April 2020 

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