AN ANDOVER doctors surgery has warned of a ‘backlog’ in blood test appointments as a shortage of resources, including test bottles, burdens the UK.

Speaking to the Advertiser about the surgery’s plans for coming out of the pandemic, managing partner at Adelaide Medical Centre, Phil Heiden, said: Blood bottle shortages came and that has stumped our restoration quite a bit. If we were a hospital, we could say we now have an 18 month waiting list, but we have people who have been waiting a long time and it’s just as frustrating, just as dangerous, if not more so.”

He continued: ”We are still continuing to do our long-term condition recalls but we are having to do that without the bloods. We will then have to recall those patients back again, so that’s effectively double the work.”

Becton Dickinson (BD), which manufactures most of the blood tubes used by the NHS, has alerted NHS England to a global shortage caused by a surge in demand.

When asked what he would like to see done to resolve the problem, Phil added: “If we could get someone to make those blood bottles quicker, that would be great! But the only thing we can hope for is some support, either funding or resources, when this resolves itself, to deal with the backlog.”

The stock shortage is not unique to Andover, with medical practices across the country suffering from them.

The BMA has urged doctors to follow guidance and carry out “only the most critical tests for the time being”.

A spokesman for BD said the NHS had been clear that the supply disruption was not limited to BD and affected other companies producing blood tubes.

He said BD took its responsibility to provide consistent product supply “very seriously” and that it was taking steps to “maximize supply” and divert products from other regions to help the UK.

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.”

Alternative products are being sought but it is expected to take time for these to be imported and delivered in volume.

Health bosses said all primary care and community testing must stop until September 17, except for “clinically urgent” testing.

Acute and mental health trusts must reduce their demand by a minimum of 25 per cent for the period leading up to this date.

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.”

The NHS guidance recommends stopping vitamin D testing except in exceptional circumstances and deferring routine infertility testing unless the patient is over the age of 35.

It also says allergy testing is “not a priority at this time” unless there is clinical need, and that routine wellness screening is “not a priority”.

The guidance also advises against stockpiling tubes.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Patient safety is a top priority and we are working closely with NHS England, the devolved administrations, and NHS Supply Chain to minimise any impact on patient care.

“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.”

The BD spokesman said there had been “unprecedented” demand for its vacutainer blood collection tubes in recent months.

This was driven by the need for tubes for testing for Covid-19 patients, as well as routine testing for procedures delayed due to the pandemic.

He added: “In addition to increased demand, we are seeing continued transportation challenges that have affected all industries, including port and transport capacity, air freight capacity and UK border challenges.

“Suppliers are also challenged to meet increased demand for raw materials and components.”

He said its blood tube plants around the world were running at “full capacity” to alleviate the backlog of orders.