In a letter to GPs on 16 September, NHS England confirmed that after securing 9m additional blood tubes from the US, improvements to a key manufacturing facility and reduced requests for tests from NHS staff 'the supply situation is no longer as constrained'.
However, the letter warned that 'the issue is not yet completely resolved' and says that because supply 'remains constrained' practices must stick to strict new advice on appropriate requests for blood tests.
The letter thanks GP practices for working through a shortage that has forced the cancellation of large numbers of routine blood tests over recent weeks - and acknowledges that 'the supply shortage has been challenging.'
GPonline reported earlier this month that GP practices had experienced a wave of abuse from patients concerned at the cancellation of testing, at a time when the profession is already reporting a sharp rise in abuse over the course of the pandemic.
The letter confirms that 'testing activity in primary and community care, in line with the best practice guidance, can resume, stocks permitting, from 17 September'.
It warns that the NHS must avoid an 'immediate surge in demand', however, and that requests must remain no higher than baseline levels in June and July this year.
'We ask that any backlog of tests is worked through over a period of at least eight weeks, prioritising as required, to spread the demand for tubes,' the letter says.
Surge in demand
Guidance on 'optimising blood testing in primary care' published alongside the letter sets out extensive best practice advice on when tests are appropriate.
It says the advice 'does not supplant clinical judgment', and 'is intended to highlight best practice recommendations'.
Referring to the 'current acute shortage' of blood tubes, the guidance spells out advice on when tests can be combined, on avoiding repeats of tests already carried out in hospital, and sets out information on appropriate use for monitoring of long-term conditions, and in other cases.
The advice also calls on CCGs and integrated care systems to review clinical pathways to 'rationalise' requests for follow up blood testing in primary care.