Covid-19 monitoring in Scottish wastewater: Lessons Learned Review

Isabel Fletcher*, Catherine Lyall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paper

Abstract / Description of output

Individuals infected with Covid-19 excrete the virus that causes the disease (SARS-CoV-2) into the sewage system. Genetic material from the virus can be detected in wastewater (WW) samples that are collected before treatment in wastewater plants. The Scottish Government and its agencies have tested wastewater for Covid-19 from June 2020 to the date of this report, and continue to do so. This CREW research project built upon the programme of monitoring for Covid-19 in Scottish wastewater, which had been active for over a year when this project started.
Monitoring Covid-19 in wastewater was a new capability, developed and delivered by people and organisations working in a new partnership, under time and budget pressure. The success of the programme depended upon the ways that they worked together, as well as on the technical sampling, testing and reporting methods. This research aimed to identify and document the working methods, structures and interactions that contributed to this partnership in Scotland, analysing aspects of the programme that had been successful and where improvements might be made in future. The technical capabilities of the programme were not the focus here. Social scientists Dr Isabel Fletcher and Prof Catherine Lyall from Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) were commissioned by CREW to gather and analyse this information, to compare the experience in Scotland with other countries, and to infer any general lessons and recommendations for Scottish Government and its agencies in delivering future, urgent programmes.
The ‘Lessons Learned’ research interviewed 41 participants in the programme (see section 2 for study design); reviewed documents from the Scottish and international Covid-19 wastewater monitoring programs; and analysed the interview transcripts and documentary evidence (see appendices).
The Lessons Learned research found that the Scottish Covid-19 wastewater testing programme was an impressive achievement: a nationwide surveillance programme for a novel organism was developed collaboratively from a “standing start” in less than six months. This success was due to a combination of high-level support from key individuals within relevant organisations and the hard work and motivation of those working on the project. However, after this impressive start, the programme encountered organisational issues that made the transition from innovative research to a routine testing programme challenging (even taking account of the accelerated timescales involved).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages40
Publication statusUnpublished - 20 Oct 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Covid-19
  • wastewater monitoring
  • learning review
  • collaborative research
  • rapid research
  • transdisciplinarity


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