Practices have been told to suspend non-essential blood tests amid a worsening shortage of test tubes.
NHS England guidance on Wednesday says clinically necessary blood tests should go ahead as scheduled but others should be put on hold because of the global supply chain crisis sparked by soaring demand and ‘UK border challenges’.
Tests for cancer diagnoses, unwell babies and prenatal screening are to be prioritised but patients with suspected allergies and vitamin D deficiencies are now likely to face delays to routine testing and fertility blood tests may also be affected.
The guidance says practices can ‘reduce non-essential (non-clinically urgent) testing’ including stopping vitamin D testing except in exceptional circumstances and deferring routine infertility testing unless the patient is over the age of 35.
It also says allergy testing is ‘not a priority at this time unless there is clinical need and that routine wellness screening is also ‘not a priority’.
The guidance says GPs should:
- Only test for a clinical indication in patients and increase the testing interval for monitoring where it is clinically safe to do so;
- Review testing levels to ensure a reduction in non-clinically urgent testing;
- Ensure clinical staff are aware of which tests may be impacted by the supply disruption. Each organisation should have a pathology handbook which explains which tubes are used for which test.
The guidance also warns against stockpiling test tubes and urges GP practices to order supplies from NHS Supply Chain rather than try to buy the equipment directly from the manufacturers.
NHS Supply Chain said it expected to see ‘some improvement’ in availability from next month.
The British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA) said BD was a key supplier of the tubes and had apologised to NHS trusts for the disruption.
The tubes contain chemicals to prevent samples from clotting before getting to the lab and have been used during the pandemic to test for clotting in covid patients who may have coagulopathy, a complication that affects the blood’s ability to clot.
BIVDA said BD had promised NHS trusts it was ‘manufacturing around the clock’ and ‘balancing the frequency of preventative maintenance’ at its plants to minimise shutdown and provide a continuing supply of products.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care 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 BD to put mitigations in place to resolve any problems if they arise.’