NHS England last week ordered GPs to stop all non-urgent blood tests until 17 September amid a global shortage of tubes, with NHS officials warning supplies would become ‘even more constrained before they improved’.
In a statement on 31 August, supplier Becton Dickinson said it was importing millions of additional tubes this week for ‘immediate distribution’ under emergency measures.
However, GPs warned that practice teams are facing abuse from patients angry about disruption to blood tests, with one doctor saying their team was ‘at wits' end’ - urging the government to ‘speak out’ on the issue.
Test tube shortage
The warning comes after the BMA said last week that GPs must not take blame for delays to care due to the blood test tube shortage, which it said were likely to add to the ‘enormous backlog of care’ created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A NHS England spokesperson confirmed to GPonline that guidance on limiting blood tests will continue to remain in place for now, with extra stocks yet to be received and needing to be safety checked. In the meantime, GPs have warned they are losing hours of clinical time rearranging tests.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We have secured tens of millions of additional blood tubes, including importing additional supplies from the EU and the US, which will be available to the NHS soon and there continues to be stock in place to ensure clinically urgent testing continues.
‘Patient safety is always the top priority and we continue to work closely with NHS England, the devolved administrations, and the NHS to minimise any impact on patient care.’
GP staff abused
Despite the promise of additional test tubes, BMA deputy chair Dr David Wrigley posted on Twitter that practice staff were suffering abuse from patients because of the shortages.
He said: ‘My surgery staff are at their wits' end. Due to the blood bottle shortage having to cancel ‘non urgent’ tests. When our staff call patients they are getting abuse & anger directed at them. This is NOT our fault. Where is Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid on this. Please speak out.’
My surgery staff are at their wits end. Due to the blood bottle shortage having to cancel ‘non urgent’ tests. When our staff call patients they are getting abuse & anger directed at them. This is NOT our fault.— Dr David Wrigley (@DavidGWrigley) September 1, 2021
Where is @BorisJohnson and @sajidjavid on this. Please speak out
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘While Becton Dickinson has confirmed that it will provide additional blood tube supplies, the stock must first be delivered and then go through the appropriate safety checks before the NHS is able to put them to use in patient care.
‘Therefore, as we continue to face a constrained supply, it is vital that GPs, hospitals and trusts continue to follow the guidance until further advised to reduce the number of tests carried out and prioritise patients with the most urgent need.’
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'. The BMA has previously called for immediate action to ensure normal testing can resume.
Last month, a BMA survey revealed that more than half of GPs had personally experienced verbal abuse in the past month, while over two thirds have witnessed violence or abuse against colleagues.