Last week GP practices were ordered to stop undertaking non-essential blood tests after disruption to NHS supplies of test tubes.
Vitamin D, infertility and allergy tests, alongside routine screening tests should be deferred, according to the advice from NHS England. The guidance says GPs should only test for a clinical indication and should increase testing intervals for patients who are being monitored where ‘clinically safe’.
However, the BMA has argued that it is unreasonable for NHS England to ask healthcare staff to delay tests until a later date, warning that it could increase the ‘enormous backlog of care’ created by the pandemic.
Deputy chair of the BMA council Dr David Wrigley, said the BMA had raised concerns with NHS England about the impact the test tube shortage could have ‘on regular tests for NHS Health checks, the monitoring of quality of care, and medication reviews’.
‘Unless in exceptional circumstances, doctors have been advised to temporarily stop vitamin D testing, as well as screening for pre-diabetes and blood disorders such as dyslipidaemia, along with allergy testing and routine infertility testing,’ he said.
‘While NHS England has provided some guidance for clinicians to follow, no doctor wants the consequence of delayed diagnosis for patients due to these shortages, and they also need to know they are protected from any possible negligence claims.’
The warning comes as frontline GPs have already reported feeling the effect of the test tube shortage and predicting ‘potentially huge impacts’ of not being able to run tests as usual.
NHS England officials have said that the test tube supply problem, which is linked to a global shortage, is expected to last for a ‘significant period of time’. But the BMA has called for immediate action to ensure normal testing can resume.
Immediate action needed
Dr Wrigley said: ‘We need to have adequate supplies of these tubes resumed without further delay, and it is vital, going forward, that processes are put in place to ensure that supply chains of medical equipment are maintained at all times.’
Last week, London GP Dr Thomas Round warned that he was directly seeing the impacts of the test tube shortage – and that it could have ‘potentially huge knock-on impacts’. Other GPs questioned how they would deliver the news to patients.
So looks like national bottle shortage getting worse – now affecting london & we’ve been told to stop all routine bloods with no idea when this will restart – any ideas @LondonwideLMCs @NikkiKF @BMA_GP @CNagpaul – potentially huge knock on impacts @pulsetoday #primarycare #nhs
— Thomas Round (@drtomround) August 19, 2021
OK so my practice of nearly 16,000 only has 25 blood bottles this week.
CCG tell us to cut back on tests in meantime.
HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO WORK SAFELY, MANAGE PATIENTS EXPECTATIONS AND HOW THE HELL AM I TO AVOID ADMISSIONS TO HOSPITAL?!
— PK #IveHadTheVaccine (@pkonline84) August 17, 2021
NHS England’s primary care bulletin on 12 August said supplier Becton Dickinson had alerted it ‘to a global shortage of products from their Blood Specimen Collection Portfolio’.
NHS England said its guidance aimed to ‘ensure that there is no disruption to urgent care, and services for patients are able to continue as clinically appropriate’. It warned that ‘failure to enact this guidance could limit the availability of tests’.