GPs have been told to scale back “non-essential testing” as a global supply chain shortage of blood test tubes is limiting the number of patients that can be tested
Individuals waiting for allergy, vitamin D and fertility tests could all face delays in order to maintain supplies of test tubes, after NHS England issued guidance to limit non-urgent testing.
NHS England has advised the measures should be implemented “urgently” by all GPs and laboratories, and is recommending current supplies be reviewed in order to assess the extent of the shortages.
The problems are being caused by increased demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as an increase in routine testing which stopped during the pandemic.
This has been compounded by HGV driver shortages and border complications due to Brexit.
A representative for Becton Dickinson, which supplies test tubes to the NHS, told Supply Management: “In the past few months, we have seen unprecedented demand for BD Vacutainer blood collection tubes driven by the need for these tubes for testing for COVID-19 patients, as well as routine testing for procedures that had been delayed due to the pandemic.
“In addition to increased demand, we are seeing continued transportation challenges that have affected all industries, including port and transport capacity, air freight capacity and UK border challenges. Suppliers are also challenged to meet increased demand for raw materials and components.
“BD has taken additional steps to maximise supply of these products including manufacturing at optimal levels to improve supply availability in addition to working on efficiency gains to increase production output.”
The company also said it has invested in expanding manufacturing capacity to meet the growing needs of customers.
Tests for vitamin D deficiencies – which can lead to bone complications – will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances, and infertility tests for patients under the age of 35 will also be delayed.
Cancer screenings, prenatal screenings and tests on unwell babies should all be prioritised, the guidance says.
A spokesperson 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."