Last updated Aug 3, 2020
Frequently asked questions
What is UK Biobank?
UK Biobank is a large, publicly-funded resource that is helping scientists from around the world perform health-related research to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of diseases (such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and joint problems). By studying people’s responses to questions, physical measurements and samples collected from all 500,000 people in the study, scientists can work out why some people develop particular diseases, and others do not. UK Biobank is largely funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, although it has also received additional funding from Government bodies (the Department of Health, Scottish Government, and the Welsh Assembly Government) and charities (Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK).
Do I have to take part?
No, your participation in this study is entirely voluntary.
What should I do if I do not want to take part?
You do not need to do anything. We will not contact you again about this study.
I do not have COVID-19 symptoms – why have you contacted me to ask me to take part?
The purpose of this study is to determine the extent of previous infection with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in different regions across the UK. It is therefore important for us to include a range of people in the study, regardless of whether they have had symptoms of COVID-19.
If I am experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should I still do the test?
Yes. It is important to include samples from individuals before, during and after infection. If you are concerned about sending a potentially infectious blood sample through the post, our staff are trained to the highest standards to ensure they handle your sample with care.
Can I still take part if I have an existing illness?
Yes. We want to include people who represent a broad cross-section of the UK population, regardless of what other conditions you may have. Your samples are treated with utmost care to protect staff who are handling them, so you can still take part if you have an infection.
Why do you want to involve younger relatives?
Participants in UK Biobank are generally aged over 50. In order to find out the extent of the coronavirus and its impact on health in all age groups, we would also like to invite adult (over 18 years old) children and grandchildren (if applicable) of UK Biobank participants to get involved, if they would like to. Whilst we are happy for more than one person in a household to register their interest in the research, no more than one person will be selected to participate. This is because of the high chance of co-infection within households.
My children are adopted/stepchildren. Can they take part in the project?
Yes. Any children or grandchildren aged 18 or over can register an interest to take part in the study. They do not need to be blood relatives. Whilst we are happy for more than one person in a household to register their interest in the research, no more than one person will be selected to participate. This is because of the high chance of co-infection within households.
I do not have any children or grandchildren. Can I still take part?
Yes, you can still take part if you do not have or wish to involve other family members.
I do not have any children or grandchildren. Can I ask someone else to take part?
Unfortunately not. The study is only open to UK Biobank participants and their children and grandchildren aged 18 or over.
My younger relatives live overseas. Can they take part?
No. As the aim of this study is to determine the extent of previous infection with the coronavirus across the UK, we only need people who live in the UK to participate.
How do I forward emails to my younger relatives?
Most email clients (programs) or websites have a button or drop-down menu in the same place or near to where you would usually go to reply to an email. We cannot provide guidance for every email provider here so if you still have problems, we suggest that you go to https://www.google.co.uk and search how to forward an email in your email provider e.g. Gmail/Hotmail/Yahoo/BTInternet/TalkTalk.
I’m unable to forward the email to my relative. Are you able to send this on my behalf or is there another way that they can participate?
Due to data protection laws, we are unable to directly email your relatives. Consequently, please do NOT send us your relatives’ personal details. Please read the guidance on how to forward any email provided above. If you still have problems, please telephone our Participant Resource Centre free of charge on 0800 0 276 276 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I do not want to take part, but my spouse/partner does. Can they do it instead of me?
The study is only open to UK Biobank participants and their children and grandchildren aged 18 or over. If your spouse/partner is a participant in UK Biobank and has not yet received an invite to participate, they can register their interest by logging into the UK Biobank Participant website. Contact details can be checked and updated by clicking on the “Contact Details” button on the Participant Homepage. To consent to provide us with blood samples for this research, please click on the “Coronavirus Research” button on the Participant Homepage.
I have received an invite to take part in this study, but my spouse/partner has not. Can they also take part?
If your spouse/partner is a participant in UK Biobank and has not yet received an invite to participate, they can register their interest by logging into the UK Biobank Participant website. Contact details can be checked and updated by clicking on the “Contact Details” button on the Participant Homepage. To consent to provide us with blood samples for this research, please click on the “Coronavirus Research” button on the Participant Homepage. Whilst we are happy for more than one person in a household to register their interest in the research, no more than one person will be selected to participate. This is because of the high chance of co-infection within households.
My relatives have been accepted to participate but I have not. Why is this and should they still participate?
So that we can assess the extent of infection with the coronavirus and its impact on health in all age groups, participants are carefully selected to take part based on postcode, age and sex. As a result, it is possible for one of your relatives to be selected to take part while you are not.
I am pregnant. Can I take part?
I am a blood donor. Can I take part?
I have deleted the original email inviting me to participate/I am unable to click on the link in the email. How can I participate?
If you are a UK Biobank participant,register your interest by logging into the UK Biobank participant website. Contact details can be checked and updated by clicking on the “Contact Details” button on the Participant Homepage. To consent to provide us with blood samples for this research, please click on the “Coronavirus Research” button on the Participant Homepage.
If you are a relative of a UK Biobank participant, please ask the relative who sent your original invite to resend it to you.
What tests will you do on my blood?
Your blood sample will be tested for antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus). Antibodies are produced by our immune system in response to infections and can tell us whether you have ever been infected with the virus.
If you are a relative of a UK Biobank participant, we will also extract DNA from your blood sample to do genetic testing, so that researchers can determine whether genetic factors are important in identifying who goes on to develop severe COVID-19 disease and who does not.
I have read that antibody tests do not work. Is that true?
No. The antibodies will be assayed using a validated, robust, high-throughput test recently developed by a laboratory at Oxford University. We will also be storing plasma from participants in case there are other antibodies that scientists wish to study in the future. We are not using the home, finger prick (point-of-care) COVID-19 antibody testing kits described recently in the press which have problems of sensitivity and specificity.
Will I receive feedback on the results from my test?
No. UK Biobank’s consent explicitly states that participants will not receive feedback of results (e.g. diagnostic or other health-related information) that are not already known. Samples will not be analysed immediately and are being collected for research purposes only. As such, participation in this study should not be considered a health check. If you are worried about having COVID-19, you should follow the current government/NHS guidance about obtaining a diagnostic test or call 111.
Who will have access to my information?
The results of analyses completed on blood samples and related information will be kept by UK Biobank for many years. They will be provided in a de-identified form (such that no participant can be identified from their data or samples) to approved researchers for medical and other health-related research (including scientists working in other countries and in commercial companies).
We keep any information that might identify you (such as your name and address) separately from other information about you in our database.
I am a relative of a UK Biobank participant and have not been selected to take part. What will happen to my data now?
If you are a relative of a UK Biobank participant and are not selected to take part, UK Biobank will delete all information provided by you during the consent process as soon after its storage is no longer necessary.
Will I receive any benefit from taking part?
There will be no monetary benefit or direct feedback of any results to you as a result of taking part in this study, but your participation will help in the fight against COVID-19.
How can I tell that I registered correctly?
If you have registered correctly, you should receive an acknowledgement email within one working day. Please check your junk/spam folder as well as your inbox. If you have not received an acknowledgement within this time, please go to https://biobank.ndph.ox.ac.uk/covid19/checkmystatus/ and enter your details to see whether you have been registered successfully.
If I have been recommended to stay at home for 12 weeks, should I still take a sample?
If you are not able to leave the house, we would appreciate it if a member of your household, neighbour or friend is able to post your sample for you.
I’m not sure about being able to provide multiple samples over the next few months. Should I still participate?
In order to determine the extent of infection with coronavirus (and immunity) over time, it is very important that participants are able to commit to providing multiple samples over the next six months. Whilst we know that circumstances may mean that you are unable to provide a blood sample when asked to, if you know now that you will not be able to provide every sample (for example, because you are going away), please do not sign up to participate.
I no longer wish to take part; how do I stop my participation?
If you no longer wish to provide a monthly blood sample over the next few months, please let us know by clicking on the link in the email sent to you before you receive each kit.
Delivery of samples
When will my first blood sampling kit arrive?
We will send you an email a few days before each blood sampling kit is due to arrive.
Who will deliver my blood sampling kit?
Royal Mail will deliver your blood sampling kit and in order for them to do so we will provide your name and address to Royal Mail (for further information about how Royal Mail handle personal data please see their privacy notice https://www.royalmail.com/privacy-notice).
How do I update my address?
Please log into the UK Biobank participant website to update your details.
I’m not taking deliveries to my front door; can you leave the kit elsewhere?
The kit needs to be delivered to a secure letter/parcelbox where possible. Unfortunately, we are unable to take specific delivery instructions.
I may not be in the house when the kit is delivered; will it fit through my letterbox?
I have not yet received my kit; are you able to confirm when I will?
We will send you an email a few days before each blood sampling kit is due to arrive. If you have not received your kit within 10 days of your email notification, you can request a replacement kit by visiting https://biobank.ndph.ox.ac.uk/covid19/kitproblem/
Can you delay the sending of my kit?
Unfortunately not. If you are unable to provide your sample on the specified day, please take the sample at your earliest convenience and post it back to us on the same day. Please ensure that you do this on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to ensure that the sample arrives at the laboratory when it is operational.
I can’t do the sample on the day requested, should I still do it?
Yes, please take and post your sample to us at your earliest convenience. Please ensure that you do this on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to ensure that the sample arrives at the laboratory when it is operational.
Taking blood samples
How much blood is needed each time?
We will ask you to collect approximately 10 drops (around 0.5ml or one tenth of a teaspoon) of blood into a small tube. All of the instructions will be provided in the kit.
I have lost my instructions, can I find information on how to collect and send my sample elsewhere?
Yes, please click here to view a video showing the collection process and the supporting documentation.
Part of my kit is missing, damaged or lost; can you send me a replacement?
Yes. You can request a replacement kit by visiting https://biobank.ndph.ox.ac.uk/covid19/kitproblem/ Do not collect your sample until you have all the contents of the kit.
I have received a replacement kit because I had a problem taking a sample with my first kit. What should I do with the first set of lancets?
Please return all used lancets to UK Biobank in the protective packaging provided. Any unused lancets can also be kept as spares for use in future months or disposed of in your household waste.
I requested a replacement kit and now have two samples that I can send you. What should I do?
Please send us the sample that contains the largest volume. The barcodes on your questionnaire, sample tube and envelope link your results to you. When you return your sample to UK Biobank it is therefore important that you complete the questionnaire and use the packaging that was sent to you with the sample tube you used.
When should I take my sample?
We will send you an email and/or SMS when we would like you to take your sample. If possible, please take your blood sample and mail it back on the specified day. If your kit has not yet arrived, or this day is inconvenient, please take the sample as soon as you can. However, we ask that you only do this on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to ensure that the sample arrives at the laboratory when it is operational.
Will I be provided with any Personal Protective Equipment?
The amount of blood that needs to be collected is minimal (i.e. no more than 0.5 ml). It is not necessary to wear gloves to collect the sample. Gauze, a wipe and plaster are provided in the kit to clean your finger afterwards.
I am taking anti-coagulants. Is it safe to provide a sample when taking this medication?
The amount of blood that needs to be collected is minimal (no more than 0.5ml) so it shouldn’t affect you unduly if you are taking anticoagulants.
I haven’t been able to fill the tube, should I still send my sample in?
Yes. If your first attempt doesn’t fill the tube to the level requested, try using the second lancet on another finger. If you are unable to fill the tube to the required level after two attempts, please still send us the sample that you have been able to collect.
I haven’t been able to fill the tube. Can I return to the sample to try again later?
No. The sample collection must be completed in a single sitting to maintain the quality of the sample collected. Please still send us the sample that you have been able to collect.
I haven’t been able to provide a sample. Can someone else from my household do it instead?
No. Only participants that have consented to take part in the research can provide blood samples. The sample kit is linked to other information that you have already provided to UK Biobank.
I forgot to take a sample/I was unable to take a sample last month. What should I do?
If you forgot to take your sample, please take it as soon as you can and return it to us on the same day. However, we ask that you only do this on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If you cannot go outdoors to the postbox, please ask a member of your household, a neighbour or a friend to post it for you, if possible. If you’ve had an email from us saying that your next sample kit is arriving in a few days’ time, then please skip your last sample and just provide and post us the next sample.
I have previously struggled to take blood samples from my finger. Can I take it from another part of my body (such as my ear or heel)?
We do not recommend collecting blood from any other part of your body as the instructions are written to optimise blood collection from your finger. Guidance to improve blood flow will be provided in the instruction leaflet. Please read the guidance carefully to maximise the chance of collecting the full volume needed. Two devices to collect blood will be supplied in case the first attempt fails or yields an insufficient sample.
When should I take my sample?
You can take the sample at any time of the day but please ensure you are able to post the sample on the day you collect it. Please try to take your sample and mail it back to us on the day we ask you to. Please ensure that you do this on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to ensure that the sample arrives at the laboratory when it is operational.
Do I need to fast prior to taking the sample?
How long will it take to collect my sample?
If this is the first time you have collected a sample, collection should take no longer than 30 minutes from start to finish (including reading the instructions and packaging the sample for return to UK Biobank). Subsequent attempts may take half this time.
Can someone help me collect my sample?
The kit is designed for you to collect yourself. If you need help from someone, please ask them to read the instructions before assisting you.
How do I dispose of the finger-prick device (also known as the lancet)?
Used lancets should be returned with your sample. Instructions about how to safely package your lancet are provided in the Instruction leaflet.
Returning the sample
How do I return my sample to UK Biobank?
A freepost envelope will be included in your blood sampling kit. Please follow the instructions contained in your kit which explains how you should package and return the kit to us. Please ensure that you adhere to government restrictions relating to social distancing that might be in place when mailing samples. To help ensure that samples are returned to us as soon as possible, please try to post your sample in a postbox that is outside a post office. If this is too difficult or inconvenient, please use your nearest postbox.
I have only used one lancet from the blood sampling kit. What shall I do with the second one?
You may keep unused lancets as spares for use in future months if you wish. If you do not need them, please dispose of them in your household waste.
I have misplaced my questionnaire; can you send me another?
You can request a replacement kit by visiting https://biobank.ndph.ox.ac.uk/covid19/kitproblem/ When you receive it, please take your sample and post it that day, if possible.
I have misplaced the return envelope; can you send me another?
You can request a replacement kit by visiting https://biobank.ndph.ox.ac.uk/covid19/kitproblem/ When you receive it, please take your sample and post it that day, if possible.
I am not leaving the house so will be unable to return the pack; what should I do?
If possible, please arrange for another member of your household, a friend or a neighbour to post your sample back to us. Unfortunately, due to the need to mail the sample on the same day that it is taken, we are unable to arrange collection of your package.
It has been over 24 hours since I took my sample, should I still return this to you?
Yes. Please return your sample and questionnaire as soon as possible. If you did not record the time and date of collection when the sample was collected, please record an approximate time and date when you collected the sample.
I forgot to include my questionnaire in the envelope when I returned my blood sample. What should I do?
If possible, please scan or take a photo of your questionnaire and email it to us at email@example.com. If this is not possible, we would be grateful if you could send it by post to UK Biobank, 1-2 Spectrum Way, Adswood, Stockport, SK3 0SA.
Will you let me know if you have received my sample?
No, unfortunately we are not able to acknowledge receipt of the samples mailed to us but please be reassured that the mailing process we are using is routinely used for remote blood sample collection.
Use of my sample
Will this sample be used for anything else?
Your blood sample will be tested for antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. If you are a relative of a UK Biobank participant, we may also extract DNA from your blood sample to do genetic testing, so that researchers can determine whether genetic factors are important in identifying who goes on to develop severe COVID-19 disease and who does not.
The results of analyses conducted on your sample, and data you provide, will be used for approved health-related research that is in the public interest, in accordance with your consent.
How long will my sample be kept for?
Your blood samples will be stored on a long-term basis until relevant analyses can be completed. The results will be made available for approved health-related research.