New guidance from NHS England says that GPs should only test for a clinical indication and increase the testing interval for patients who are being monitored if it is clinically safe to do so.
Tests for cancer screening, prenatal screening and tests in unwell babies should all be prioritised, the guidance says.
Vitamin D testing and allergy testing should be suspended unless there are exceptional circumstances or an overriding clinical indication. Routine wellness screening and routine infertility testing should also be deferred, the guidance suggests.
Global supply disruption
The NHS has been affected by a disruption of supplies from company Becton Dickinson. However NHS England said the shortage of blood test tubes was a global problem and its guidance applied to all providers and laboratories in England regardless of which equipment they used.
The guidance says practices should ensure clinical staff are aware of which tests may be impacted by the supply disruption and also keep testing levels under review to ‘ensure a reduction in non-clinically urgent testing’.
GPs should also consider ‘add-on testing’ if needed and laboratories have been instructed to set up a dedicated phone service or IT solution for NHS services to request add-on tests.
The guidance also says it is important to make clear to patients that routine tests are only being deferred where it is clinically safe to do so and that any tests that are required will be carried out later.
NHS England said that the DHSC, NHS Supply Chain and Becton Dickinson were working to resolve the issue.
If practices are likely to run out of products within 48 hours they have been advised to notify their NHS England regional team.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘Patient safety and continuity of care is our priority and we are working to ensure there is minimal possible impact on patient care.
‘The health and care system is working closely with Becton Dickinson to put mitigations in place to resolve any problems if they arise.’