So, you think you’ve got coronavirus. Now what? Getting tested to confirm your suspicions or put your mind at ease would be the obvious first step, but sadly, it’s not that easy.
Supposedly, anyone who has coronavirus symptoms can get a test. The list of test-worthy symptoms now includes: a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.
However, with Covid-19 cases rising in the UK, there have been widespread reports of people struggling to access tests, including in coronavirus “hotspots” and within the NHS.
How are you supposed to get a test?
If you believe you have coronavirus symptoms, the government is still advising people to get a test done “as soon as possible”. Tests should be done within the first five days of having symptoms.
There are two ways to get tested: booking a visit to a test site or ordering a home test kit. Both methods require you to self-refer via the government’s website. During this process, you’ll need to fill out an online form with some personal details. You can also book a test in this way for someone you live with who is displaying symptoms.
If you’re having problems using the online service, you should call 119 if you’re in England, Wales or Northern Ireland or 0300 303 2713 if you’re in Scotland.
However, the government says these numbers shouldn’t be used if you’ve simply been told no tests are available. “No extra tests are available through the helplines,” it confirms.
There’s a separate testing service for care home residents or staff members. In these groups, you can still get tested even if you do not have symptoms.
What problems are people having?
People have reported trying the government website “hundreds of times”, but continually receiving a message that no tests are available.
Worryingly, NHS staff are being forced to stay off work and self-isolate because they cannot access coronavirus tests for themselves or family members.
Some people have also reported having to drive long distances to access a test, but the government insists the average distance travelled to a test site is now 5.8 miles, down from 6.4 miles last week.
The Department of Health and Social Care confirmed it “pauses” the booking portal for home testing when there’s high demand, to prevent backlogs at laboratories. Appointments at testing sites are also limited.
Who will be prioritised for testing?
The government is yet to release an official priority list for testing, although this is expected in the coming days.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed tests will be rationed in some capacity, though. He said patients with acute medical needs and people in care homes will be at the front of the queue for Covid-19 checks under a new system.
“Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritised testing according to need. Over the summer, when demand was low, we were able to meet all requirements for testing, whether priorities or not,” he said.
“But as demand has risen, we are having to prioritise once again and I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They are not always comfortable, but they are important.”
What to do if you’re struggling to access a test
When asked what people should do if they are struggling to access a test, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson didn’t exactly answer the question.
“NHS Test and Trace is working and our capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are seeing a significant demand for tests including from people who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible,” they told HuffPost UK.
“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for those who need them and we are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.”
Your best bet is to check the government website at different times of the day. Booking slots for Covid testing sites are made available the evening before for morning appointments, and on the morning for afternoon appointments.
Remember, you need to self-isolate if you think you have Covid-19 symptoms. Use the following services if you need medical advice:
- England: NHS 111 online coronavirus service
- Scotland: NHS inform
- Wales: NHS 111 Wales
- Northern Ireland: get advice from a GP or GP out-of-hours service.
Call 999 if you think there’s something seriously wrong.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.