As the UK government ends free supply of Lateral Flow tests for businesses, employers are looking to buy kits to screen their workforce. This handy guide will help you understand the different types of Covid-19 tests for sale in the UK, and how they work.

What different types of Covid-19 test can you get in the UK?

Anyone who has Covid-19 symptoms will be offered a free PCR test with the NHS. PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction, and is able to detect traces of virus in the mucus and saliva of your nose and throat, and works even if you do not yet feel ill from the virus. It has to be processed in a laboratory.  Lateral Flow tests (LFT) or sometimes known as Lateral Flow Devices (LFD) are tests that provide a result within a few minutes of testing, and require no special equipment.


What is the difference between Lateral Flow & PCR?

The main difference between these tests is the convenience – Lateral Flow is ideal for home-testing or business testing and is quick and easy to do.  PCR tests need a laboratory, but overall are more accurate, and allow the exact strain of virus to be identified.


What about Rapid Antigen Tests, and Antibody Tests?

Lateral Flow & PCR tests are both Antigen tests – Antigens are attached to viruses, and the tests are developed to detect this.  So a Rapid Antigen test would be another name for a Lateral Flow Test, as the testing and results are rapid – a few minutes.  Antibody tests don’t tell you if you have got the virus, as antibodies develop in your body as you fight the virus off. They are used to see who has already had the virus, and work out the proportion of the population that is immune from the virus.

Lateral Flow Test Components Explained

Swab – a long stick with an absorbent pad on the end  – to collect a sample of fluid from your nose or throat

Buffer Solution (or Extraction Buffer) – This clear liquid, pretty much just salty water, but very pure and free from any germs.  It is mixed with the swab after testing, and collects any virus cells, and soaks into the paper test strip.

LFD – Lateral Flow Device – the actual strip of test paper, often in a plastic holder. As the buffer solution is added to one end, it soaks up through the strip, and any covid virus cells will react with a band of antibodies on paper, showing up as a solid line.

Nasal – In the nose. Many Lateral Flow tests will work by taking a swab from the nostrils.

Nasopharyngeal – Nose & throat – some Lateral Flow tests require you to swab the throat as well as the nose.

Dropper  – The plastic pot that is used to mix the buffer with the swab, then drop a couple of drops of liquid onto the flow test strip.

See also:

Best lateral flow tests for children

Rapid Test Kits – Nasopharyngeal or Nasal?

You can choose Lateral Flow Tests for businesses from our online shop.