GPs ordered to halt all non-urgent blood tests across England until September

NHS England has warned the shortages of blood test tubes will get worse before it gets better

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Friday 27 August 2021 09:31 BST
All blood testing in the community and by GPs has been stopped except for urgent cases
All blood testing in the community and by GPs has been stopped except for urgent cases

All non-urgent community blood testing by GPs and other health services has been stopped by NHS England today as the nationwide shortage of blood collection tubes became “critical”.

In a new alert to the health service on Thursday, NHS England also told hospitals they needed to reduce the amount of blood test requests by doctors by 25 per cent.

NHS trusts have been warned they need to put plans in place to help each other out if some organisations come close to running out of tubes.

NHS England said the shortage of blood collection tubes was likely to get worse before it gets better.

The new changes are designed to stretch out existing supplies and will come into effect immediately and last until at least 17 September.

It comes as staff in one major hospital have been told the shortages have reached “critical” levels and staff need to take urgent action.

In an alert to the service NHS England’s medical director Steve Powis said: “The supply position remains constrained and is forecasted to become even more constrained over the coming weeks. While it is anticipated that the position will improve from the middle of September, overall supply is likely to remain challenging for a significant period.

“The following measures should be applied across the NHS in England, all commissioned services and by independent providers of NHS services in England, regardless of which blood tube products they use.”

He added: “All primary care and community testing must be halted until 17 September 2021, except for clinically urgent testing. Acute and mental health trusts must reduce their demand by a minimum of 25 per cent for the three-week period up to 17 September 2021

“Organisations are asked to ensure that they are prepared, to provide mutual aid across local and regional systems for those sites experiencing acute shortages.”

NHS England said plans were in place to start using alternative products but this will take time for the tubes to imported and delivered to trusts.

It added: “It is important and urgent that demand is reduced as much as possible and that this letter is acted upon immediately.”

A message to staff at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, seen by The Independent, warned staff they must not order blood tests unless it was “absolutely clinically urgent”.

The message warned: “The on-going shortage of blood collection tubes is now critical. Your urgent attention is needed to help control our testing and supply.

“Only request a blood test if absolutely clinically urgent. There must be senior clinical oversight around the ordering of tests.”

The trust said it was taking “all possible actions” to reduce the impact of the shortage urging staff to do their bit it said: “We must avoid compromising patient care.”

Elsewhere the Royal United Hospitals Bath Foundation Trust has told GPs in the area they must cut the number of blood tests they are requesting by more than 50 per cent, the Health Service Journal reported.

In a letter seen by the HSJ, the trust said: “We have seen a 6 per cent reduction in the volume of GP tests but we are now having to ask that all non-essential bloods are not requested. We are aiming for more than a 50 per cent reduction.”

This meant stopping tests for all health checks and preventative medicine and monitoring as the trust focuses in urgent patient needs.

NHS England and NHS Supply Chain, which handles equipment ordering for the NHS at a national level, has been trying to control stock levels since the start of the crisis but there is growing concern the shortage could get worse before it improves.

The British Medical Association has said the shortage is a significant concern.

Responding to the latest alert from NHS England, Dr David Wrigley, deputy council chair of the British Medical Association said: “We are still no closer to understanding how this situation was able to develop; why there wasn’t a contingency plan; and what happens if - despite NHS England’s efforts to avoid this - GP surgeries and hospitals do run out of blood tubes before 17 September.

“It’s not unreasonable to question that there must have been a time when NHS England and the government knew that blood tube supplies were running low, and therefore, to now ask, ‘Why has nothing been done to mitigate that?’”

He added: “In the meantime, patients who need a range of blood tests may now face cancellations, or at best a delay with those tests and this is a huge concern. Blood tests are a fundamental part of patient care, giving us essential insights into different conditions, warning signs, and overall health. If they can’t be done or are delayed, then the quality of patient care is under threat.

“Patients need to have clear information about the scale of the problem, the impact it may have on them and what’s being done to keep them safe. That needs to come from NHS England and very soon.”

Manufacturer Becton Dickinson alerted the NHS to problems in July and said the increased global demand as well as “UK border challenges” were to blame as well as a shortage of raw materials.

A BD spokesperson said the company was maximising supply of the products and expanding its manufacturing capacity.

A Department of Health and Social Care 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.”

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