- A supply chain issue has meant that blood test tubes haven’t been able to reach the UK.
- This has meant doctors have been told only to perform emergency blood tests.
- One doctor told Insider that this is causing “huge anxiety” amongst the medical community.
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The UK is running out of blood test tubes, causing some sectors of the National Health Service (NHS) to grind to a halt.
As a result, non-urgent blood tests have had to be suspended, appointments canceled, and patients and doctors alike are concerned.
One of the problems is that the NHS relies on a single supplier, Becton Dickinson (BD), for their testing tubes.
They have not publicly disclosed the reason for the supply chain issues, which many believe are linked to border and supply challenges linked to Brexit, which has also caused a range of food shortages in the UK.
It’s not just blood test tubes that the UK lacks but flu jabs, too, according to the British Medical Association vice-chairman David Wrigley, who spoke to the BBC on the issue.
With COVID-19 still very much part of daily life and winter around the corner, anxieties are beginning to mount.
As a result, doctors have been told they must reduce their testing by up to 25%, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
Dr. Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said in a statement: “It is shocking that this situation has been allowed to develop – in particular, the apparent over-reliance on one manufacturer and the woeful lack of any kind of reserve supply.
“The manufacturers should also have to explain how they allowed stocks to run so low that patients will now suffer as a result. If we don’t get on top of this shortage – and quickly – then we could very easily end up in a catastrophic position, particularly in hospitals where patients come to serious harm.”
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Dr. Julia Patterson, a medical doctor who runs Every Doctor, an advocacy group for doctors in the UK, told Insider: “It’s a nightmare. They’re one of the essential tools in our diagnostic toolkit as clinicians, and so to have your access to doing diagnostic blood tests removed, mostly, is really difficult and really stressful – and it can put patients at risk.”
That’s a huge anxiety to doctors. You don’t want your patient to become an emergency because you can’t do blood tests.”
BD has promised to deliver 9 million imported blood tubes to the NHS this week for immediate distribution.
In a statement to Insider, BD said it also increased its manufacturing capacity by 20%: “We expect the situation to stabilize and recover through September, based on the volume of tubes we are supplying to the UK,” it said.
A UK Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson added: “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 minimize any impact on patient care.”
Being the backbone of many diagnostic investigations, a shortage of blood test tubes is terrifying at the best of times.
But now, amid more than 30,000 new COVID-19 cases in the UK every day and rising COVID deaths, the panic begins to rise, according to the NHS. Bring in the oncoming winter and a delay in flu jabs – the striking reality of this crisis becomes clearer.