School of Social and Political Science

Personal burden of Covid-19 testing needs to be addressed to avoid testing fatigue


Despite the inconveniences and personal sacrifices involved, people in Scotland are willing to go to considerable efforts to make the Covid-19 testing system work, but more needs to be done to recognise and reduce this burden, say researchers.

Photo, boy with his head on the table in front of a Covid-19 test
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A new report from researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science reveals that people in Scotland see it as a ‘duty to loved ones and society’ to take a test when they experience symptoms. However, it shows they experience testing as a lengthy process rather than a discrete individual event.

The research, funded by the Chief Scientist Office, revealed ‘there is often a disconnect between the presentation of testing as straightforward in government documentation and personal experiences of testing as a social process in which multiple challenges are encountered. The gap between representation and experience can generate uncertainty, undermine trust in the government response, and weaken commitment to government guidelines.’

Through interviews with the general public, interviewers learned that at each stage of the testing process there is a significant and often unacknowledged burden of time, energy, and resources for the individual and their relatives/friends. This is often carried disproportionately by women.

Dr Alice Street, Principal Investigator of the study, said:

“As the pandemic drags on a significant risk is that the public will get testing fatigue. Identifying key motivations and barriers for people seeking testing is therefore crucial to ensuring that testing programmes continue to contribute to the pandemic response.

“Our research shows that Test and Protect imposes an unprecedented diagnostic burden on members of the public and that more needs to be done to recognise, reduce and/or compensate for the emotional, economic and logistical work involved in accessing, undergoing and acting on Covid-19 tests.”

Recommendations from researchers

The researchers have made a number of recommendations following the study, to close the gap in communication around testing, improve the experience for those taking the test, and combat testing fatigue.

These include to:

  • improve the visibility and accessibility of up-to-date testing and case data at national and local levels through NHS or Scottish Government sources
  • improve public guidance to address ambiguities in the testing criteria
  • address public scepticism about private testing contractors through greater transparency around contract decisions
  • increase the number of local walk-in testing centres
  • provide pre-test counselling and training, including short videos, tailored advice for testing children and people with disabilities, and accessible tests with less invasive sampling techniques for those who need them
  • emphasis the contributions of individual actions to a societal response
  • remove barriers to self-isolation through improved economic and practical support

The research team

The research was carried out by:

  • Dr Alice Street (Principal Investigator), School of Social and Political Science
  • Imogen Bevan, School of Social and Political Science
  • Dr Shona Lee, School of Social and Political Science
  • Dr Michelle Taylor, School of Social and Political Science
  • Dr Kate Templeton, Edinburgh Medical School