NHS stops some blood tests due to vial shortages

The NHS has temporarily stopped some blood testing for certain conditions due to shortages of collection tubes.

NHS England has issued guidance urging doctors to stagger regular blood tests if clinically safe.

The decision came after Becton Dickinson (BD), which makes vials for the NHS, warned of serious supply chain issues across the UK.

BD said it had unprecedented demand for products driven by the need for tubes to test Covid-19 patients.

The medical device company, which manufactures its tubes in the US, said routine testing for procedures which were delayed due to the pandemic had also increased demand.

Due to the shortages, the NHS England has temporarily stopped some fertility testing, screening for pre-diabetes, allergies and certain blood disorders. NHS Wales has issued similar guidance.

In its guidance, NHS England said there was “global shortages of blood tube products”, not just with BD, and added that its guidance to medics was being issued “in order to balance demand”.

“Clinicians and local pathology laboratories should review their current local practices in line with this guidance with a view to reducing the number of tests and impacted products used without impacting on urgent care,” it added.


Blood tests

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Doctors are concerned that a shortage of blood tube products will add to existing backlogs for blood tests.

The British Medical Association warned that a lack of tubes could worsen the “enormous backlog of care” created by the pandemic. It said it was “unreasonable” to ask healthcare staff to delay blood tests until a later date.

“No doctor wants the consequence of delayed diagnosis for patients due to these shortages, and they also need to know they are protected from any possible negligence claims,” said Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of BMA council.

Supply problems

Like many other industries, BD said in addition to increased demand, it was experiencing “continued transportation challenges”, which included port and transport capacity, air freight capacity and UK border challenges.

“Suppliers are also challenged to meet increased demand for raw materials and components,” the firm told the BBC.

“We are balancing the frequency of preventive maintenance leading to plant shutdown to provide continuing supply of products, and we are working closely with our raw material suppliers, transport agencies and other necessary third parties to minimize supply disruptions,” a spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care told the BBC: “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,” they added.

GPs across the country have tweeted about the difficulties the shortage is causing in their practices, while patients have tweeted texts from their surgeries which have said their blood tests have been cancelled.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Diabetes UK expressed concerns for the 13.6 million people in the country at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop more slowly than those for type 1.

Nikki Joule, policy manager at the charity, said the supply issues would make the condition “harder to spot”.

“It is very important that those previously identified by their GP as being at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes receive their annual checks – including checking their blood glucose levels – and do not fall through the cracks due to a logistical issue,” she said.

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