A global test tube shortage has led to family GPs in Wales being told to ration non-essential blood tests.
They have been told there is a shortage of the receptacles used to collect blood which are supplied by United States company Becton, Dickinson and Company. The company has warned of serious supply chain issues due to the pandemic and transportation issues.
NHS Wales has issued guidelines which include a temporary pause of a number of blood tests. The Aneurin Bevan Health Board has written to GPs in its area telling them to halve the number of blood tests they carry out.
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Earlier this month doctors in England were told to only call for some tests under certain circumstances and patients with suspected allergies and vitamin D deficiencies could face delays to routine testing. Fertility blood tests may also be affected, unless the patient is over 35.
Wales’ Health Minister Eluned Morgan has said the new clinical guidance was to preserve supplies for urgent cases.
“Patient safety remains the priority, and a test would only be delayed if the NHS have assessed it is clinically safe to do so,” she said.
“People who require urgent care should continue to seek it as normal.”
The guidance in Wales says allergy testing is “not a priority at this time unless there is clinical need” and routine wellness screening is “not a priority”.
The new GP guidance in Wales says regular blood tests should be staggered if clinically safe and general practices in Wales have been advised to not stockpile vials.
They have also been told to not carry out blood tests at the surgery if patients are being referred on to hospital for further treatment.
Tests for patients at immediate high risk will be prioritised for the next three months.
BMA Cymru chairman, Dr David Bayley, told BBC Wales: “We’ve got a massive shortage across the UK for the next two or three months. We rely on these bottles for almost all of the blood tests that we do for patients, both in general practice and in hospitals, so we’re going to have to ration them essentially.
“Patient care will be impacted and while we hope that impact will be minimal, we’re coming out of a massive pandemic and have a big backlog of work. The very last thing we need is to push more work down the line, because we haven’t actually got the tools to do the job.”
NHS Wales said it and the Welsh Government were working closely with other nations to source alternatives to affected products.
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