FAQs - Symptom-free Community Testing programme

What is Symptom-free (or asymptomatic) Community Testing?

The Symptom-free Community Testing programme provides testing to people aged 18 or over who have no symptoms of COVID-19, who have to leave home for work and who do not have access to symptom-free testing through other routes.

Who is running the scheme?

The Symptom-free Community Testing Programme in Sussex is run by Brighton & Hove City Council, East Sussex County Council and West Sussex County Council working in partnership with the Sussex Resilience Forum and the Department for Health and Social Care.

What is the aim of the programme?

Up to one in three people with COVID-19 have no symptoms but may still be infectious and spread the infection to others unknowingly.

Identifying and supporting any infectious people to isolate who may not have otherwise known they were spreading the virus will help reduce further transmission of Covid-19. This will help protect our most vulnerable residents and help us get back to a more normal life.

How long will symptom-free tests be available for?

The Symptom-free Community Testing programme will be provided until 30 June 2021, but may be extended beyond this date.

Who is eligible for a symptom-free test?

To take a symptom-free test at our sites in Sussex, you must:

  • Be aged 18 or older
  • Not have any COVID-19 symptoms (fever, new persistent cough or loss of sense of taste or smell). If you have any of these symptoms, you must self-isolate immediately and book a free NHS COVID-19 test or call 119.
  • Live or work in West Sussex, East Sussex or Brighton & Hove for a company who employs fewer than 50 people and cannot work from home.
  • Not have been instructed to isolate by NHS Test and Trace.

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the community – whether that is Lateral Flow Test (LFT) or Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) – should not be eligible for community testing for 90 days. If they develop symptoms, they should be directed to symptomatic testing sites.

We are particularly encouraging critical workers leaving home for work to be tested. See the full list of critical workers on GOV.UK.

Is the test mandatory or voluntary?

Testing is voluntary, although we hope that many people recognise the benefits of getting involved in local testing efforts, to reduce the spread of the virus in our communities.

If I am regularly tested through an existing programme such as through my workplace, should I start using the community testing programme instead?

No. This programme is intended to give people who cannot work from home and who are unable to access symptom-free testing via other routes the opportunity to be regularly tested.

If you can access symptom-free testing via an existing programme at your workplace, you should continue to use that testing instead.

How can I book a test?

You can book a test using the online booking system.

Phone booking will be available once the scheme is launched more widely.

What if I need to change or cancel my booking?

You can change or cancel a booking by using the link on your confirmation email.

What happens if I can’t make my appointment?

If you can’t attend your appointment please cancel your appointment as soon as possible using the link that you receive in your confirmation email as soon as possible. You will only be able to do this up to the end of the day prior to your appointment. If you find you can’t attend on the day of your test you will be recorded as ‘did not attend’. You will be able to book another slot.

Do I have to pay if I can’t make my appointment?

Currently there will be no charge for people who are recorded as ‘did not attend’. This may be reviewed in the future and the website will be updated with all information as and when this becomes available.

What if I am eligible for testing, but there are no slots available for me to book a test?

Only days with available booking slots are shown on the booking system.

If there are no booking slots available, please try again the following day.

How far in advance can I book a test?

You are able to book tests from one day to one week in advance. You cannot book tests for the same day.

Where and when can I get tested?

Where can I get tested?

Test sites are available at community pharmacies across West Sussex, East Sussex and Brighton & Hove. There is also a dedicated testing site in Brighton and one in Hove. These can be accessed by anyone from across Sussex.

When you book your appointment to have your test, you will be given the option to choose which testing site or pharmacy to visit and further information including directions.

When can I get tested?

Pharmacy opening times and testing appointment availability will vary, although most are providing slots Monday to Friday. There may be some availability at community pharmacies at weekends, depending on the individual opening hours of pharmacies offering testing. Please refer to the booking system to see available slots on offer at individual sites.

How far in advance can I book a test?

You are able to book tests from one day to one week in advance. You cannot book tests for the same day.

What type of test is being used?

Symptom-free Community Testing uses Lateral Flow Devices (LFD).

An LFD detects the presence or absence of coronavirus from a swab sample.

The sample is mixed with a buffer solution, which releases and breaks up virus fragments. Some of the solution is then dropped on to the LFD. The sample runs along the surface of the device’s absorbent strip, showing at the end a visual positive or negative result dependent on the presence of the virus.

How is this different from the test being used for people who have symptoms?

The testing process is similar because for both tests you will need to take a swab from your throat and nose.

The main difference is that the test for people with symptoms uses a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is more sensitive than the symptom-free LFD test. This is why the PCR test is used for people who have symptoms of the virus.

However, the results from an LFD test are available much quicker, as it is processed on site as opposed to being taken to a laboratory to be processed.

Are the tests accurate?

If someone tests positive on a symptom-free test, it is highly likely that they have COVID-19 and it is unlikely to be a false positive.

If someone tests negative on a symptom-free test, there is a chance they might still have COVID-19. This is because the evidence so far has shown that there is a risk of false negatives in cases where the strength of the virus is low.

Symptom-free tests are more able to pick up positive cases which have a higher strength of the virus, who are more infectious.

What happens during the testing process, and what shall I bring?

What should I bring with me to the testing site?

You will need your booking reference and ID.

Additionally you will need to have a smartphone, or similar device to register yourself onto the test logging system. If you have previously registered an NHS account your personal details will not need registering each time you take a test. If you do not have a device capable of registering yourself, the site will be able to assist you with this.

If you are visiting a pharmacy and you require assistance to do the swab test, please bring someone from your bubble to assist you. We can’t guarantee that that the pharmacy will be able to do this for you.

What happens during the testing process?

  • You need to book a test before arriving at the test site or pharmacy.

  • You should avoid eating or drinking for at least 30 minutes before taking the test to reduce the risk of spoiling the test.

  • You will be greeted by a member of staff upon arrival, who will check your eligibility, ID and booking information.

  • You’ll then register for the test on your own smartphone or on a tablet provided in the registration area.

  • You will then be asked to take a swab kit.

  • You will be given instructions on how to do the sample and take the swab sample, which is a large cotton bud wiped at the back of your throat and up your nose.

  • You will hand the swab back to a member of staff who processes the test on site.

  • Staff will be on hand to answer questions at any point during this process.

  • You will then be asked to leave the test centre or pharmacy. You should continue with your day, following the preventative measures currently recommended for stopping the spread of the virus. Remember to socially distance, wear a face mask when required and maintain hand hygiene as usual during this time.

What if I can’t do the test on my own?

If you are visiting a pharmacy and you require assistance to do the swab test please bring someone from your bubble to assist you with this as we can’t guarantee that that the pharmacy will be able to do this for you.

How will I receive my result?

You will receive your result from NHS Test and Trace through a smartphone app or email. You should get your results within 30 minutes in most cases.

Before you take your first test you will need to register your personal details so that results can be shared with you. To save time, you can create an NHS account in advance. Register a coronavirus test.

If you don’t have a smartphone, devices will be available on site for you to use and you can choose to have the results sent to a trusted friend or family member if you need to.

What happens if I get a positive result?

If you test positive, you must self-isolate immediately for 10 days after the day of the test.

Contact tracing will be initiated through NHS Test & Trace and any contacts will be advised to book a PCR test. If they test positive or are negative but haven’t been vaccinated, they will be advised to self-isolate as well.  

For this reason, it is really important that you provide correct and full details to NHS Test and Trace.

Advice for travelling home when you receive notification of a positive test:

  • Travel home immediately, wearing a face covering
  • Wherever possible you should travel home in your own vehicle or by walking or cycling
  • If it is not possible to do so, you should arrange for a member of your household to pick you up

Symptom-free contacts of positives cases should go home as they would normally do. If the contact becomes symptomatic, they should follow same travel advice as positive cases (above).

What support is available to individuals that test positive?

If you need to self-isolate, support is available from the community hubs.

Can I still get tested again after I have tested positive and self-isolated?

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the community, whether that is LFT/PCR, should not be eligible for symptom-free community testing for 90 days. If they develop symptoms, they should be directed to symptomatic testing sites.

Current advice is that, if you have recently (within 90 days) tested positive for COVID-19 by a symptom-free or symptomatic test, you are likely to have developed some immunity, and therefore a repeat LFD test is unlikely to be necessary within this 90 day period.

This is an evolving area, and we will update our guidance in line with the most up to date evidence as it becomes available.

What happens if I get a negative result?

If you test negative, this does not completely rule out infection with COVID-19 as there can be false negative results. You should continue to follow the preventative measures currently recommended for stopping the spread of the virus, as well as measures implemented as part of the national lockdown.

To protect yourself and others, you must remember: Hands. Face. Space.

  • Hands – wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water often, and as soon as you get home – use hand sanitiser or gel if soap and water are not available.
  • Face – wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will meet people you do not normally meet.
  • Space – stay at least 2 metres away from anyone you do not live with, or who is not in your support bubble.

If I get a negative test via this Symptom-free Community Testing programme, does that mean I do not need to self-isolate if I am identified as a contact of a COVID positive case?

If you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should not book a symptom-free test. You must stay at home and complete 10 days self-isolation after the day of the test.

Taking a symptom-free test will not allow you to end your isolation early. It’s a legal requirement to self-isolate if you are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. You could be fined if you do not self-isolate.

What happens if I get an invalid result?

An invalid result is rare, but if it happens to you, you should retest with another symptom-free test. If you have a second invalid result, you should get a COVID-19 test like you would if you had symptoms. You can tick the box saying that your local authority has directed you to get a COVID-19 test.

Should I still get tested if I have been vaccinated against COVID-19?

Yes. Until we know more about the way the virus spreads in those that have been vaccinated, the advice is that those who have been vaccinated should still get tested if they are eligible, as there is a chance they might still get or spread the virus.

The symptom-free community testing programme is separate from the vaccination programme, which is led by the NHS. It is extremely important that you book to have your COVID-19 vaccination when you are invited to do so.

After getting a COVID-19 vaccine, will I test positive for COVID-19 on an LFD test?

Being vaccinated against COVID-19 will not cause you to test positive on an LFD test. The test detects current infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 rather than the immune response caused by getting vaccinated.

Who can I contact if I have further questions?

Anyone living and working in Sussex can contact the West Sussex Community Hub for more information: 01243 642130.