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A question that our Customer Services team get asked regularly is: Can I get my DNA test for free on the NHS?

The straight answer is No. Paternity tests aren’t available on the NHS. What the NHS advises is that you discuss your situation with your GP [1]. They can consider your case, help you ponder the implications and may be able to arrange counselling before or after the test. It is vital to carefully think about the issues involved with DNA testing and the full ramifications of the result for everybody concerned, particularly for the child. Getting proof of biological parentage may be reassuring but on the other hand, it could be devastating.

Paternity tests work by analysing DNA within samples provided by the family members. By analysing specific DNA markers in each sample, it is possible to identify which half of the child’s DNA is inherited from the father and which half is from the mother. If the tested man is the biological father, both child and father will share identical sections of DNA at each marker. When the tested man is not the biological father there will be differences in the DNA. The results are 100% accurate.

If you decide to proceed with a paternity test then the costs can vary widely. It is important to do your research. Some testing providers will offer tests at rock-bottom prices, but you’ll need to then pay a high fee to get them to process your samples. It’s also important to choose a testing company that is accredited and offers a high-quality service. Professional testing companies will be UKAS accredited, which means they have been assessed against internationally recognised standards to demonstrate their competence, impartiality and performance capability. The NHS directs customers to government accredited testing laboratories [2].

There are two types of paternity tests available: Peace of Mind and Legal.

1. Peace of Mind DNA testing kits can be easily acquired online and posted direct to your home. They can also be bought at some local High Street stores. Full instructions tell you how to simply and painlessly collect your DNA samples (usually cheek buccal cells) using the swabs contained in the kits. The samples are then returned to the lab for analysis, with results available within days. AlphaBiolabs offers these types of home testing kits from £99 for next day results.

2. Legal paternity tests are needed to stand as evidence in court, to change the name on a birth certificate and for child custody issues. As such, they need to be performed under specific instructions, known as chain of custody. A trained sample collector is needed to visit you at a convenient location to ensure that the correct individual is providing the sample by checking ID, taking photographs and getting signed paperwork. In other words, the DNA sample does not leave the custody of those who are legally responsible for ensuring the authenticity of its results. Your GP may also be able to collect your DNA samples (usually for a fee) and send them securely back to the lab for testing. Legal samples can also be collected for free at nationwide Walk in Centres.

Further information on paternity testing can be accessed at our Frequently Asked Questions page. Alternatively, you can contact our Customer Services team who will be happy to talk you through options (Tel: 0333 600 1300).