New guidance to encourage self-isolation after study reveals only 25 per cent comply

10th September 2020

New guidance aimed at encouraging people to adhere to self-isolation rules to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have been produced by psychologists at Sheffield Hallam University.

The guidance, Encouraging self-isolation to prevent the spread of Covid-19, has been published today (Thursday 10 September) by the British Psychological Society (BPS).  

It provides recommendations to help the public, health workers and test and trace call handlers appreciate the importance of self-isolation and practical ways to achieve this including the difference following the rules can make to the spread of the virus, employer support and planning for potential periods of isolation.

Self-isolation is crucial for the success of test and trace and helping to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but a recent study found that only around 25 per cent of people are adhering to self-isolation rules when required to.

Professor Madelynne Arden, Director of the Centre for Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, is the lead author of the guidelines.

Key recommendations include:

  • More focus on explaining the big difference those who self-isolate make, keeping themselves and their local community safe.
  • Employers should give staff confidence that self-isolation is normal, valued and an acceptable thing to do.
  • Encourage people to make self-isolation plans in advance.
  • Local services should offer support to those self-isolating, ensuring they have essential supplies and any dependents are looked after.
  • Fines should only be used as a last resort and only used in extreme examples of rule breaking.
  • It is important that people understand the difference between self-isolation and social isolation/lockdown.

Professor Arden said: “The NHS test and trace services and local public health teams have been working to identify people at risk and to instruct them to self-isolate, but adherence has been low. This new guidance acknowledges the barriers to self-isolation that many experience and provides advice on ways to overcome them.

“Self-isolation is a key part of the UK strategy to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by people who are symptomatic and have tested positive, and for those who are at risk of developing Covid-19 due to having had close contact with someone with symptoms or a positive test.  So far there has been little focus on how we support people to self-isolate.  Instructing them to do so is not enough.

“We need to acknowledge that self-isolating can be difficult for many people due to a range of different factors.  Educating people about what they need to do, when and why and helping them to plan and supporting their isolation is the best way to increase adherence to self-isolation so important in the fight against Covid-19.”

Professor Angel Chater, chair of the BPS Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention taskforce that produced this guidance, said: “These guidelines are part of the continuing work of the BPS Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention taskforce in its aim to demonstrate to health officials the key behavioural science considerations that can optimise public health efforts.”

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