Exclusive The Government is not planning a public information campaign regarding blood test tube shortages, despite GPs being told yesterday to only do ‘clinically urgent’ tests, Pulse has learned.
But grassroots GPs, who had called for NHS England to communicate the issue to avoid patient abuse, warned that ‘thousands of GP hours’ will be lost trying to explain the situation.
Yesterday, NHS England instructed GPs to cancel all tests except those that are ‘clinically urgent’ until 17 September.
NHS England’s letter also warned that the shortage of blood test tubes is due to worsen over the coming weeks.
Tests that can go ahead include those required for two-week wait referrals, those that are ‘extremely overdue and/or essential for safe prescribing’ or condition monitoring, those that could prevent a hospital admission or onward referral, or those for suspected sepsis or ‘conditions with a risk of death or disability’
GPs have been told that the worsening shortage of test tubes was sparked by soaring demand and ‘UK border challenges’.
NHS England said its new letter provided guidance for GPs, and also pointed to its 10 August guidance which said that ‘changes to patient testing should be made in consultation with individual patients’
The DHSC said it believed a CAS update published online means that the public has been informed.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘Patient safety is a top priority and we are working closely with NHS England, the devolved administrations, and NHS Supply Chain to minimise any impact on patient care.
‘The health and care system continues to work flat out with the supplier and stakeholders to put mitigations in place, and restore normal supply, and there continues to be stock in place.’
It comes as GPs have warned that the issue could lead to further abuse from patients, as well as negative CQC ratings.
In yesterday’s letter, NHS England said it has made regulators including the CQC ‘aware’ of the new guidance, while the state-backed indemnity scheme would cover GPs against potential litigation stemming from the issue.
But Surrey GP Dr Dave Triska told Pulse: ‘There’s no communication about test shortages at all to patients, and in a time where they think we’re restricting everything just because we can, it’s one more thing to deal with… we are the ones directly facing patients so we get it right in the neck.’
He added: ‘There’s going to be thousands of GP hours wasted explaining this to people. Central communications would provide validity to the message.’
He added: ‘If patients don’t have any structural communications from a central body then they’re quite reasonably suspicious of people’s motives at the moment, and they think GPs are trying to restrict things for reasons which aren’t true.’
North East London GP Dr Osman Bhatti told Pulse: ‘Messaging should be national. Where do patients go if they want to raise it further? Rather than coming back to GPs, there should be a channel of explanation. It will just increase the narrative of GPs failing the system.’
He said: ‘A lot of practices are finding out from third parties anyway. There should be direct messaging for all and it should be clear.’
Black Country GP Dr Uzma Ahmad also argued it is the responsibility of NHS England to directly tell patients, as ‘the problem is actually not in the hands of the GP’.
She added: ‘It’s double standards from the NHS to put GPs in this difficult position.’
It comes as GPs have recently reported increased abuse from patients, many of whom are unhappy with the level of service provided during the pandemic.
Some GPs think this is further made worse by mainstream media, which both BMA and RCGP writing to the Telegraph about an inflammatory column this week.
Recently two GP practices were targeted with bomb threats, while another had a patient throw bloodied tissues at receptionists.
And some patients have already taken to Twitter to complain about GPs ‘not doing their job’, in relation to extended waits for blood tests.