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Blood bottle shortage resolved as restrictions on blood testing

by Caitlin Tilley
6 December 2021

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GP practices will see remaining restrictions on blood testing removed as the blood bottle shortage has been resolved, NHS England has said.

‘Best practice guidance’ will be updated ‘shortly’ to reflect the update, it said. 

This marks the end of a crisis which began to unfold in early August when medical technology company Becton Dickinson, a key UK supplier of blood test tubes, warned of serious supply chain issues.

In response, GPs were forced to stop ‘non-urgent’ blood tests until 17 September, although essential tests – including for cancer investigation – could go ahead.

Since then, ‘best practice’ guidance to reduce demand for tests has been in place, including considering whether tests are essential; whether they have recently been done in secondary care; or whether tests could be combined.

But in a letter sent to GPs at the end of last week, NHS England said: ‘Restrictions placed on testing, to help safely manage demand during the disruption, will be removed.’

GP practices that previously ordered directly from Becton Dickinson will be able to do so again.

NHS England said the supply situation has ‘continued to improve’ due to existing mitigations and ‘the efforts of colleagues across the NHS’.

Supply constraints have been alleviated thanks to additional imports of blood test tubes from the US, the letter said.

Practices currently using Becton Dickinson US products should carry on purchasing them through NHS Supply Chain, even if they previously ordered directly from the company.

The use of Becton Dickinson US products will be ‘phased out over time’ as the supply situation improves further, the advice stated, and reinforced that GP practices using US blood test products should not revert to UK supply ‘until advised to do so’.

But NHS England requested that GP practices stagger their return to ‘business as usual’ stock levels over a six-week period, as ‘significantly larger than usual orders could potentially create additional constraint on supply’.

Practices unable to get sufficient stock should contact their supplier (or Becton Dickinson if ordering directly with them).

If the problem persists, NHS England told practices to contact their ‘local pathology network’.

NHS England also said ‘situation reporting’ on blood test tube stock levels and demand can stop.

In October, GPs were informed that supply chain issues with blood test tubes had ‘stabilised’ but stock levels had still not returned to normal.

GPs were told to follow previously issued ‘best practice guidance’, which had advised GPs to restart non-clinically urgent blood tests from 17 September.

Pulse revealed in August that the Government was not planning a public information campaign regarding the shortage, despite GPs fearing patient abuse as a result of the supply issues.

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.