Supply shortages that have led to GPs being told to suspend non-essential blood tests are set to last for ‘a significant period of time’, NHS England has warned.
The latest primary care bulletin says all clinical staff must follow the urgent guidance to restrict use of tests to ensure there is no disruption to urgent care.
It comes after medical technology company Becton Dickinson warned of global supply chain problems.
Earlier this week, NHS England issued guidance that clinically necessary blood tests should go ahead but others put on hold amid worsening shortages of test tubes sparked by soaring global demand and ‘UK border challenges’.
Tests for cancer diagnoses, unwell babies and prenatal screening are to be prioritised but patients with suspected allergies and vitamin D deficiencies are now likely to face delays to routine testing and fertility blood tests may also be affected.
GPs have been asked to ‘reduce non-essential (non-clinically urgent) testing’ including stopping vitamin D testing except in exceptional circumstances and deferring routine infertility testing unless the patient is over the age of 35.
NHS Supply Chain initially had said it expected to see improvement from next month.
But in the bulletin NHS England said: ‘Becton Dickinson has alerted us to a global shortage of products from their Blood Specimen Collection Portfolio. This supply disruption is expected to last for a significant period of time.’
‘The measures set out in this guidance seek to ensure that there is no disruption to urgent care, and services for patients are able to continue as clinically appropriate.
‘Failure to enact this guidance could limit the availability of tests.’
The guidance says GPs should:
- Only test for a clinical indication in patients and increase the testing interval for monitoring where it is clinically safe to do so;
- Review testing levels to ensure a reduction in non-clinically urgent testing;
- Ensure clinical staff are aware of which tests may be impacted by the supply disruption. Each organisation should have a pathology handbook which explains which tubes are used for which test.