A shortage of blood tubes has led to GPs being left to make serious decisions about which patients are given blood tests, the British Medical Association has warned.
The shock warning comes after NHS England revealed there was a global shortage of blood tubes, resulting in cuts to the number of blood tests carried out.
‘Only most critical tests allowed’
The BMA said shortages across hospitals and GP surgeries were “severe” and if the NHS did not reduce usage in the coming days “even the most clinically important blood tests may be at risk”.
The medical council has issued guidance stating that critically necessary blood tests should be carried out, but all others have been scaled back.
The BMA urged doctors to follow guidance and carry out “only the most critical tests for the time being”.
Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair, said: “This crisis has put doctors and their patients in a terrible, unenviable position.
“No doctor knowingly undertakes unnecessary blood tests and to now have to ration all those we are doing, as well as cancel hundreds more, goes against everything we stand for as clinicians.
“However, if we don’t try to follow the NHS guidance, it’s clear we will get to the point where even the most clinically urgent of blood tests may not be able to be done as we simply won’t have the tubes for the blood to go into.
“We are at a very perilous point and it’s surprising that NHS England hasn’t declared a critical incident given the very strong possibility that NHS organisations may temporarily lose the ability to provide lifesaving diagnostic testing.”
The cut back on blood tests is expected to last until late September, as it was forecast by NHS England that “supply could become even more constrained.”
“It is important and urgent that demand is reduced as much as possible,” the board added.
‘Could mean a missed diagnosis’
Mr Wrigley has now called on the NHS to provide patients with an update on what the lack of blood tubes could mean for them.
He states that GP practices are now spend hours weighing up what scheduled blood tests may need to be cancelled, when that time could be spent on patient appointments.
“Cancelling tests makes patients anxious and can mean a missed diagnosis,” Dr Wrigley added.
‘Woeful lack of reserve supply’
The shortage has been attributed to medical technology company Becton Dickinson reporting a temporary supply chain issue for tubes .
Alternative products are being sought but it is expected to take time for these to be imported and delivered in volume.
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said such a reduction was “highly alarming” and “careful” decisions were now needed.
He added: “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.”