Exclusive GP practices have been told that laboratories can only carry out the most ‘urgent’ testing for a range of conditions including HIV, heart disease and prostate cancer.
In emails from NHS Lincolnshire CCG, seen by Pulse and describing a ‘national reagent shortage’, GPs were asked to prioritise urgent cases such as suspected renal failure.
The advice comes amid a shortage in the supply chain for chemistry analyser reagents at the pharmaceutical giant Roche, leaving labs with limited capacity for chemistry testing, the CCG said.
Roche confirmed the issue to Pulse and said it ‘deeply regrets’ delays affecting ‘dispatch’ of some products, with staff ‘working day and night’ to resolve the situation.
It explained this was to do with a move to a new warehouse.
The NHS Lincolnshire CCG email said Roche has asked labs to ‘safeguard’ supply ‘by prioritising testing for urgent patients only’.
The issue affects ‘tests such as UE, LFT, Glucose, Bone profile, Thyroid, Troponin, Cardiac enzymes, PSA etc and also some serology tests such as HIV, Hep B, Hep C etc’, the CCG added.
One affected lab was quoted as saying: ‘If any tests are required urgently we can perform these i.e. where they have requested repeat tests because they were previously abnormal and those patients who present with an urgent cause for concern e.g. renal failure but it is imperative that we protect the limited reagent supply we have.’
Dr Phil Williams, a partner in Lincoln, told Pulse: ‘There’s no such thing as a routine blood test, and they’ve not given any guidance on what is urgent and what isn’t.
‘They’ve given no indication to practices how long this will last which makes planning very difficult.
‘We’re already trying to clear a backlog of blood tests from the beginning of Covid, and we’re approaching another period where patients may refuse to come in for blood tests again.’
An anonymous GP told Pulse: ‘We have already started to cancel blood tests, and patients will be attending for reviews and then having to re-attend for bloods at a later date so [that means] increased workload for [the] practice.
‘[It also] impairs the drive to catch up with routine reviews and assessments post-Covid and increases patient attendance at surgery and then possible Covid risk.’
A GP practice manager, who also asked to remain anonymous, told Pulse that the issue had led to ‘appointments cancelled for hundreds of patients, many of whom had been delayed earlier in the year due to Covid’.
They added that this extra workload comes as GP practice staff is ‘already at capacity’ and ‘with no indication as to how long the issue will exist and no clear communication from anyone’.
A spokesperson for Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland told Pulse: ‘We deeply regret that there has been a delay in the dispatch of some products and apologise to any of our customers who have been impacted.
‘The teams at the National Distribution Centre are working exceptionally hard, day and night, to resolve this issue as soon as possible. As well as extending working hours, we have recruited extra staff and, where they can, our dedicated teams on the ground are working with customers to distribute products and minimise service disruption. We will continue to provide regular updates to our customers and we are doing everything possible to return to routine operations.
‘We are prioritising the dispatch of Covid-19 PCR and antibody tests, and are doing everything we can to ensure there is no impact on the supply of these to the NHS. Roche pharmaceuticals are not affected.’
A spokesperson for NHS Lincolnshire CCG told Pulse: ‘We are urgently seeking clarity from our partners on the issues that have caused the shortage of reagent supply, to understand what measures can be put in place in order to be able to support our GP practices and patients.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Roche has alerted hospitals to an issue with their supply chain, and they will be working urgently to resolve this issue.’
Pulse has also approached the labs for comment.