GPs are increasingly unable to order blood tests, including those for cancer and serious heart conditions, as the shortage of Roche components becomes a national crisis.
Experts have warned that the supply failure of blood test swabs and reagents – which could last for two to three weeks – risks forcing patients with chronic conditions back into hospital.
More than 100 doctors from across the UK have now contacted the Every Doctor campaign group to warn of test shortages in their area. In one case, an urgent test ordered for a patient suspected of having cancer was rejected due to a lack of kits.
At Swansea Bay NHS Trust, an email was sent to all staff saying supplies would run out within days “if we do not cease all immediately critical blood tests for GPs and outpatients”.
Meanwhile, Worcestershire Acute Trust on Wednesday ordered local GPs to cancel all blood tests until October 17, apart from a few priority cases. Other local NHS trusts are rationing blood tests for use by consultants only.
A GP in Lincolnshire said: “I spent a long time this morning going through almost 50 patients who were booked in for bloods on Monday next week to try and rationalise them and decide which could be deferred and which were needed urgently – not something I thought I would ever have to do as a GP working in a developed country.”
Dr Julia Paterson, from Every Doctor, said that for many patients with serious heart conditions it was only the availability of weekly blood tests that enabled them to live at home rather than be in hospital.
“This is an incredibly concerning situation which is fast mushrooming, and will be a total disaster for patient safety,” she said. “It is spiralling out of control and is going to get worse before it gets better.”
The supply problems are believed to be the result of a factory move by diagnostics manufacturer Roche, a Swiss multinational healthcare company that operates worldwide under two divisions, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics.
The company, which supplies blood tests for Covid-19, said earlier this week that it would prioritise supplies to help fight the pandemic.