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GPs can expect regional variations for when non-urgent blood tests can resume


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Exclusive GPs are facing regional variation as to when they will be able to resume routine blood tests, following the UK-wide crisis with the supply of reagents to labs, Pulse understands.

Although some GPs have been told they can now resume non-urgent tests, other areas continue to struggle with capacity depending on how the pathology networks are managing supply.

A number of GPs have expressed concerns to Pulse about the backlogs that are building up as a result.

The problems stemmed from logistical issues at Roche, a major UK supplier of reagents, due to a warehouse move – although Roche has told Pulse it is resuming its ‘normal delivery schedule’ of reagents to UK labs this week.

A communication from NHS Lincolnshire CCG sent to GPs last week said it anticipates full lab capacity to be restored by the end of this month although testing capacity would ‘increase over the next couple of weeks’.

It advised GPs to postpone non-urgent blood testing until the end of this week.

Meanwhile, an anonymous GP, based in East London, said: ‘We have been told every two days for the last two weeks to not book in bloods until after two days – and then we are told the same recurrently.

‘This has really messed up practices’ plan for bringing in long term condition reviews… especially in practices that have in-house phlebotomy.’

And Dr Thomas Round, a GP in North West London, said: ‘The issues are still ongoing – we have a huge backlog build-up which we’re having to track, then at some point rebook.

‘We’ll have to put on extra clinics if/when we finally get back on track, but at the moment we’ve had no communication or indication at all. All a total mess and causing extra work and patient distress.’

One GP practice, St Peter’s Hill Surgery in Grantham, told Pulse it now has 244 patients waiting to have their cancelled blood tests rebooked. 

NHS England did not respond to Pulse’s questions about when it expects the problems to be fully resolved for GPs. However an NHSE spokesperson said they felt Roche has made clear ‘the original issue’ has ‘been resolved’.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘GPs need clarity as to how long this issue is predicted to go on for, as well as what steps we should take when presented with a patient who we think would benefit from a laboratory test.’

He added that ‘delays in receiving test results will be a cause of concern for GPs and patients alike – particularly in cases where the results will determine or change a patient’s treatment plan’.

GPs in some areas have been informed routine blood tests can resume.

In East London, GPs were told that non-urgent blood testing can restart today.

The update. from the North East London Incident Control, said this comes as the situation ‘continues to improve’, however it added that GPs should ‘stagger’ testing requests and appointments to ‘avoid overwhelming the labs’.

Meanwhile, the Welsh Government released a statement yesterday which said that blood test ‘services can now operate as normal’ in Wales.

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said: ‘I can now confirm that during this situation all urgent and essential services continued at all times… My officials have now established a robust supply chain with Roche, which has ensured that services can now operate as normal.’

He thanked health boards and pathology teams across Wales ‘who worked around the clock and collaboratively to ensure supplies were available to maintain… essential services’.

And he added: ‘Health boards, where services were disrupted, have put in place mechanisms to ensure any affected patients will shortly receive the services they require.’

According to the statement, Roche has confirmed that it ‘will be undertaking a lessons learnt evaluation’ which it will share with the Welsh Government. Welsh officials will also ‘review processes’ in Wales in light of the incident and ‘provide recommendations… where necessary’.

Geoff Twist, general manager of Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland, said the company’s UK distribution centre is now ‘fully operational’, and it is continuing to ‘increase capacity by supplementing scheduled shipments with the direct delivery of products from our warehouse in Mannheim, Germany’.

Mr Twist said: ‘We will be moving back to our normal delivery schedule this week and, in addition, another bulk shipment of products will be dispatched at the end of the week. We will also continue to work closely with our customers to prioritise delivery of any products they are telling us they still need.’