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GPs told to suspend some blood tests as tube shortage worsens

GPs told to suspend some blood tests as tube shortage worsens

GPs have been told to suspend non-essential blood tests amid a worsening shortage of test tubes.

New NHS England guidance issued today says clinically necessary blood tests should go ahead as scheduled but others should be put on hold because of  the global supply chain crisis sparked by soaring 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.

The updated NHS guidance follows an earlier call for GPs to take steps to minimise blood tube wastage after medical technology company Becton Dickinson (BD) warned of serious supply chain issues.

The guidance says GPs can ‘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.

It also says allergy testing is ‘not a priority at this time unless there is clinical need and that routine wellness screening is also ‘not a priority’.

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.

The guidance also warns against stockpiling test tubes and urges GP practices to order supplies from NHS Supply Chain rather than try to buy the equipment directly from the manufacturers.

NHS Supply Chain said it expected to see ‘some improvement’ in availability from next month.

The British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA) said BD was a key supplier of the tubes and had apologised to NHS trusts for the disruption.

The tubes contain chemicals to prevent samples from clotting before getting to the lab and have been used during the pandemic to test for clotting in covid patients who may have coagulopathy, a complication that affects the blood’s ability to clot.

BIVDA said BD had promised NHS trusts it was ‘manufacturing around the clock’ and ‘balancing the frequency of preventative maintenance’ at its plants to minimise shutdown and provide a continuing supply of products.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Patient safety and continuity of care is our priority and we are working to ensure there is minimal possible impact on patient care.

‘The health and care system is working closely with BD to put mitigations in place to resolve any problems if they arise.’


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Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Patrufini Duffy 11 August, 2021 2:56 pm

Funny how you never call out the public.
There’s the BBC and Daily Mail – your best friends.
Use them. Oh – you won’t. So the forms will keep printing to appease those worries like “my girlfriend thinks I’ve got diabetes”; “can you check my fertility”; and “I think I’m coeliac because I burped drinking craft beer”. Forms will print simply to avoid you know what – a dry NHS complaint.

Reply moderated
James Cuthbertson 11 August, 2021 3:25 pm

No probs. As soon as we get the guidance from GMC that we are immune from any complaints and investigations caused by putting the above in to action.

Reply moderated
Nick Mann 11 August, 2021 3:29 pm

Immediate cessation of all DES/LES/QOF programmes is necessary to avoid massive losses to Practice funding. NHS England must provide immediate assurance that they will cover all and any such losses.
This feels very unsafe, both for patients and for doctors.
How did it happen? Basic supplies like medications and blood bottles now have shortages. Management now literally preventing us from doing our jobs.

John Graham Munro 11 August, 2021 4:25 pm

I recall the days when G.Ps never did blood tests——-normal or otherwise——we went on clinical signs and history only

John Glasspool 11 August, 2021 4:54 pm

“global supply chain crisis sparked by soaring demand and ‘UK border challenges’. ”

Shorhand for “Brexit: the gift that keeps on giving”.

terry sullivan 11 August, 2021 5:11 pm

shorthand for public sector incompetence

Dr N 11 August, 2021 7:17 pm

Try telling that to all the over investigating noctors, poctors and phoctors we have been forced to employ to cover the sh@tfest that GP now is.

Dave Haddock 11 August, 2021 9:37 pm

Huge increase in demand for blood tests consequent to Covid studies, so sod all to do with Brexit.

Mr Marvellous 12 August, 2021 11:28 am

I only do clinically necessary bloods tests.

I’m not going to change a single thing.

Patrufini Duffy 12 August, 2021 1:39 pm

Has no one with their MBA realised if you slow the flow through GP you might save hospital pre-winter? The gatekeeper doesn’t need to keep, the doors on auto-open.

Mark Essop 14 August, 2021 10:00 am

John Munro – Do you recall any problems with the leech supply chain?