PHA urges people to get tested when appropriate

covid testing

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding people of the importance of booking a COVID-19 test if they develop any of the symptoms of the illness, but is also emphasising that those who are not displaying any of these symptoms should avoid booking a test, as they could be taking the place of someone who needs one.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature); OR
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual); OR
  • a loss of or change in sense of smell or taste.

You should get tested in the first three days of coronavirus symptoms appearing, although testing is considered effective up until day five.

Dr Bríd Farrell, Assistant Director of Service Development, Safety and Quality at the PHA, said: “Testing is an essential part of the fight against coronavirus, and we want people to use the testing support that is available, but to do so appropriately.

“There are four fixed testing sites and six mobile testing units across Northern Ireland which, alongside alternative testing options such as home kits, offer a current capacity of around 6,000 per day. This is considerable, but it’s not infinite, so like any part of our health service it relies on people using it appropriately.”

The booking system for testing in Northern Ireland is part of a UK-wide model operated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Dr Farrell added: “We are aware of some issues with the DHSC booking system which have resulted in people finding it hard to book tests, or being offered tests at sites outside Northern Ireland. We are working with DHSC to try to resolve these, but it’s important to note that pressure on testing is having an impact, which is why it is important that testing is used appropriately.

“We also know some people had an experience with the booking system recently that meant there were offered tests at locations that didn’t have testing sites. These were generally for locations that previously had a mobile testing unit available. This was because the DHSC portal for booking tests did not immediately update with the new locations. On these occasions we have worked with our DHSC colleagues to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

“We continue to work with our colleagues in DHSC to ensure changes are made to the booking portal in a more timely manner to reflect the actual location of testing units, and have sought reassurances around this moving forward.

 “I am sure it has been very frustrating for anyone affected by these issues, but I would urge anyone affected to log on to the testing portal and rebook a test if they have not yet done so.

“Booking a test is straightforward – just visit, complete the online form, and you’ll be offered a test at your nearest fixed or mobile testing unit. If you have questions about a test you've booked or are having trouble booking a test, you can call 119.”

Booking can be made for morning test slots from 6pm the previous day.

Afternoon booking slots are released at 10am on the day of testing.

If you are unable to book at these times, please check back occasionally to the booking portal and if the sites are fully booked you will need to book for the following day.

The booking portal directs you to the closest place by your postcode. If you see this is not where you wish to travel to please return to the booking website at a later time and select a test site of your choice.

Six mobile testing units operate across Northern Ireland. Mobile testing units are short-term testing sites that are mobilised in response to need and/ or to provide additional testing capacity locally. They work in close collaboration with the four fixed sites located in Belfast, Enniskillen, Derry/ Londonderry and Craigavon. When a mobile testing unit is fully booked, members of the public are directed to another mobile testing unit or fixed site for their test. This helps ensure efficient use is made of our COVID-19 testing resources in Northern Ireland. 

Dr Farrell concluded, “Finally, I would remind all members of the public that they should continue to self-isolate until they have received their test results and follow the appropriate public health advice relating to their test result.”

Information on the live location of mobile testing units is available on the PHA website at

Notes to the editor

Queries regarding the COVID-19 booking system and testing sites should be directed to the Department of Health and Social Care press office at