Exclusive The pharmaceutical company Roche has said it will continue to prioritise Covid tests following problems with its supply chain, in a move that GPs have warned could lead to patients missing out on more important testing.
GPs have told Pulse that the Covid antibody tests are of ‘limited clinical value’, and must not be prioritised while diagnostics that could identify potentially ‘life-threatening’ illnesses are being rationed.
The outrage from GPs comes as Pulse exclusively revealed yesterday that doctors had been told to only send through ‘urgent’ tests to labs amid ‘a national reagent shortage’.
Supplier Roche explained a move to a new warehouse had caused unforeseen issues with dispatch of reagents to labs, adding that it was ‘prioritising’ the dispatch of Covid-19 ‘PCR and antibody tests’ to ‘‘ensure there is no impact on the supply of these to the NHS’.
Today, Roche added that the issue has ‘not affected’ its ‘commitment’ to supplying Covid tests, and that it expects to be ‘well on the way’ towards resolving the dispatch situation for reagents ‘by the end of next week’.
But BMA GP committee deputy chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood told Pulse: ‘We call for assurances that patient care – both Covid and non-Covid – will be prioritised over Covid antibody tests, which are of limited immediate clinical value. Doctors in parts of the country already affected will not have timely access to vital tests.’
He added that doctors must be given ‘without delay, details about how widespread the issue is and what clinicians should be telling their patients’.
‘While we understand the need during the pandemic to maintain the Covid testing system to identify new cases, there are still patients who will need tests for a range of conditions that could be equally as life-threatening if left undetected,’ Dr Sanford-Wood said.
He further called for ‘urgent support’ from NHS England for GPs and other doctors ‘in managing these delays and ensuring those who need urgent testing, regardless of condition, can access it before their health worsens considerably’.
‘Patients will be rightly anxious if they are unable to get a referral for tests or receive results.’
Dr Katie Musgrave, a GP in Devon, said: ‘If we choose to prioritise antibody tests over patients who are actually ill, with for example, failing kidneys or falling blood counts, we fail to recognise that test and trace is an unproven theory in the UK, whereas the value and necessity of routine and urgent blood tests has been established over many decades.
‘Current, existing health problems must always remain a priority in health care structures, no matter the state’s need for the government to test a certain number of the population for Covid.’
Dr Liz Pollara, a GP in North London, said: ‘There are many uncertainties surrounding Covid antibody tests, whether antibodies provide any lasting immunity and how long for, etc. It is unclear to me why these are being prioritised over tests for other conditions.’
Geoff Twist, general Manager of Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland, said: ‘The current issue with the dispatch of products in the UK has not and will not affect our commitment to supply Covid-19 tests.
‘We are confident that the plans we have put in place will deliver significant improvements by the weekend to the supply of the tests affected by these logistical issues. We will be well on the way to resolution by the end of next week.’
He said that Roche is in the meantime ‘working closely with the NHS in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the HSE in Ireland, to minimise the impact on critical services which rely on our products – including cancer, cardiac and infectious diseases’.
He added that the ‘supply of Roche medicines is continuing as normal’, and said: ‘I would like to thank our partners within the NHS and HSE for working with us to keep providing vital diagnostic services to patients during this exceptionally challenging time. I would like to restate how deeply we regret the impact this has had and extend my personal apology to our customers.’