New HIV self-tests: what you need to know

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Saturday 25th April 2015

If you can’t make it to your GP or clinic, but want to get tested for HIV, there’s a new approach you can consider – instant result HIV self-test kits. They’re brand new and not available via the NHS, but you can buy them online.

Take a look at our quick guide to what you need to know about them below, or read full FAQs for the public for more information.

Instant result self-test kits for HIV do just what the name suggests: they are kits you can use to test yourself for HIV. They give a result straight away, you can use them wherever you like, and there’s no need to involve a doctor or nurse unless you want to.

You can buy self-test kits online, but be careful: only buy kits that you can be sure meet European standards and carry the ‘CE’ mark. There’s no way to be sure other tests are safe or reliable. So far, the only test kit that has this CE quality mark is the BioSure HIV Self Test. You can find out more about it here:

These kits are very accurate if they’re used correctly: but it’s very important to follow the instructions that come with the kit carefully. Also know that it can take up to three months for HIV to show up in your blood. If you’re concerned or confused in any way, talk to your GP, nurse or staff from a sexual health clinic or specialist charity.

There are lots of ways to test for HIV: instant result self-testing is just one. It’s quick, convenient and can feel more private, but you might prefer to be tested by a health worker. NHS and community HIV tests are free, confidential and can be anonymous. They also give you the chance to be tested for other sexually transmitted infections at the same time, to talk about any concerns you have and to be referred to other services you might need. Just visit your GP, local sexual health service, specialist charity or call NHS Inform.

If you do want to use a self-test kit, have a think beforehand: how you would feel and what would you do if the test shows you might have HIV? Do you have questions or want to talk about it with a health worker first? It’s also a good idea to figure out where you could go for a follow-up test or for support.

If your self-test kit result says you have HIV, get it confirmed: go and get tested by your GP or at a clinic to confirm the result if it’s positive. This is standard practice for all HIV tests, and will make sure you get the information, care and support you need quickly. There isn’t a cure for HIV but treatment is very effective and people can live long and healthy lives.

If you get a negative result, it’s likely you don’t have HIV: so long as you followed the instructions carefully, you don’t need a follow-up test to confirm it. It’s a good idea to think about whether you need to be tested for other sexually transmitted infections, though. And remember: test for HIV regularly if you are having unprotected sex, and the best ways to prevent HIV are to use condoms and never share injecting kit.

More information and support

Find testing, support and other services you may need using our service finder, or NHS Inform. You can also read full, detailed answers to frequently asked questions about self-test kits.

If you're a worker looking for information and resources about HIV self-testing, or if you want to know more about how these kits came about and the work HIV Scotland has been doing around them, visit our instant result HIV self-testing policy page.