The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned doctors will soon have to make very difficult choices around which patients get blood tests and which do not due to the shortage of the blood test tubes.
The BMA says the shortage of blood tubes across hospitals and GP surgeries is now severe with supplies in a “very perilous” situation.
It warned that if the NHS does not reduce the volume of tubes being used in the coming days, even the most clinically important blood tests may be at risk.
While the BMA has already made its concerns known, it warned that in the absence of a plan to bring in alternative supplies before the middle of next month, the situation is now urgent.
The BMA is urging all doctors to follow the NHS guidance and carry out only the most critical of tests for the time being.
Commenting on the worsening situation, BMA council deputy chairman Dr David Wrigley, 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.”
‘Very perilous point’
He added: “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.
“We also call on NHS England to commit to the changes that are needed for their guidance to be properly followed by doctors, and provide patients with detailed, easily accessible information about the situation.
“Many GP practices – like mine – will now have to spend hours assessing which already scheduled tests can or cannot be cancelled and this takes time away from frontline patient care when it is most needed. Cancelling tests makes patients anxious and can mean a missed diagnosis.”
BMA consultants committee chairman Dr Vishal Sharma noted that suggestion that an acute hospital trust needed to reduce testing by 25% was highly alarming.
“However, to try and avoid a situation where there are simply no more blood tubes, we have no choice but to now make very careful decisions about which tests to carry out,” he said.
“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.”