Patients who missed a routine blood test due to the recent nationwide shortage of test tubes may face a further wait of up to eight weeks, NHS bosses have warned.
After struggling with supply issues for weeks, a recent delivery of nine million tubes means that GP surgeries and other primary care services have been informed that they can resume normal regular blood tests for patients. However, practices have been advised to tackle their backlog gradually over the next two months in order to avoid “undue pressure” on supplies.
Jenny Bowker, head of primary care development, at the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), recently explained to South Gloucestershire Council’s health scrutiny committee:
“Nationally, the suspension has been lifted. But…practices have been advised as well to ensure that they bring in that backlog, in terms of the people who had their missed blood test during that period, over a course of eight weeks so as not to cause undue pressure on supplies, so we will see that that will improve but we will see a sort of gradual improvement over the next couple of months. And we will need to ensure that we monitor our local stock supplies as well to ensure we are resuming that safely and that we have the stocks available locally.”
In August, the NHS halted all but the most essential blood tests across England and Wales due to shortage of test tubes. The issue was as caused by a combination of increased demand for blood tubes for Covid-19 testing and the supply chain issues that still affect a broad range of industries.
The shortfalls meant that some blood testing for fertility, pre-diabetes and allergies were temporarily suspended and NHS England put out guidance urging doctors to delay regular blood tests if clinically safe whilst the health service sought “alternative products”.
As a result of the shortage, thousands of people had their tests postponed or cancelled, with doctors blind to possible warning signs of health conditions. At the time, the BBC reported a GP based in north London said she was having “difficult conversations” with patients about rationing the vials “among the very sickest”.
In response to the crisis, the British Medical Association warned that GPs should not be subjected to any claims by medical negligence solicitors that result from patients receiving a delayed diagnosis because of the blood test tube shortage.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health countered by saying that “patient safety is a top priority” and that the government was working closely with NHS England, the Devolved Administrations, and NHS Supply Chain to minimise any impact on patient care.