Last week GP practices were ordered to stop undertaking non-essential blood tests after disruption to NHS supplies of test tubes. These include vitamin D, infertility and allergy tests and routine screening tests, such as for pre-diabetes and dyslipidaemia.
On Monday, the BMA called on NHS England to ensure that GPs are protected from any clinical negligence claims that could result from patients receiving a delayed diagnosis because of the test tube shortage.
However it has also emerged that the association is seeking guarantees from health bosses that practices will not face funding shortfalls if they cannot complete blood tests that are contractually required for QOF work or NHS Health Checks.
QOF income protection
The BMA has asked NHS England to issue ‘clear guidance’ and is seeking clarification on whether practices should stop or continue with QOF and Health Check blood tests given the current test tube shortage.
It has also warned that if practices are expected to catch-up on delayed tests later there could be significant workload implications.
A BMA spokesperson told GPonline: ‘We need assurance from NHS England that whatever happens, income will be protected.
'Firstly, we want to make sure that patient safety is not compromised so we need clear guidance from NHS England about what they are doing about the situation and what they are advising can stop or continue – particularly for QOF and health checks.
'We need a clear statement that NHS England will ensure that no practice has to delay contractually related blood tests, such as QOF and NHS Health checks, as without this there could be a funding and workload implications for practices if they are unable to complete tests needed and are expected to catch-up later.'
Blood test shortages
The BMA added that any impact on funding would ‘vary across individual practices’ depending on what they needed to support their patients.
BMA leaders have already said that they have ‘significant concerns’ over the shortage in terms of its impact on clinical care and called for immediate action to ensure normal testing can resume.
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'.
According to NHS England guidance, GPs should only test for a clinical indication and should also increase testing intervals for patients who are being monitored where ‘clinically safe’.