Last reviewed 31 August 2021

NHS England has ordered GPs to stop all blood tests not “clinically urgent” until 17 September but GPs have warned that they are having to make difficult choices about which patients get blood tests.

There are currently global shortages of blood tube products. Becton Dickinson, which makes vials for the NHS, is among those facing serious supply chain issues. The company said there has been record demand for blood collection tubes in recent months, partly driven by the need for tests for Covid-19 patients. It also said it was facing issues transporting the tubes, for example with challenges at the UK border.

NHS England has put on hold tests including those for fertility, allergies and pre-diabetes. It said the shortage will probably worsen over the next few weeks and last until mid-September. Tests that can go ahead include those required for two-week wait referrals, those that are “extremely overdue and/or essential for safe prescribing” or condition monitoring, those that could prevent a hospital admission or onward referral, or those for suspected sepsis or “conditions with a risk of death or disability”.

An NHS letter has confirmed to doctors that NHS England has made regulators including the Care Quality Commission (CQC) “aware” of the guidance and that it had confirmed with NHS Resolution that any clinical negligence claims arising from it “will be captured in the usual way by the respective state indemnity schemes”.

Doctors have said the guidance is vague and it is not always easy to decide what tests are essential. British Medical Association (BMA) member Dr David Wrigley told the BBC: “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."

The BMA said doctors have been left in an “incredibly difficult position” and called on NHS England to communicate with patients about the scale of the shortage.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said patient safety was a "top priority" and it was working closely with the NHS and devolved administrations to minimise any impact on patient care. They said: “The health and care system continues to work flat out with the supplier and stakeholders to put mitigations in place, and restore normal supply, and there continues to be stock in place."