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Blood tube shortage: what nurses need to know

Non-urgent primary care and community testing in England halted until 17 September

Non-urgent primary care and community testing halted until 17 September

Nurses and other community staff in England have been told to halt routine blood tests for three weeks amid a ‘critical’ shortage of blood collection tubes.

An alert issued to the health service on Thursday also ordered hospitals to cut testing by one quarter due to supply issues with medical device company Becton Dickinson.

Alternative collection tubes are

Non-urgent primary care and community testing halted until 17 September

Non-urgent primary care and community blood testing halted until 17 September
Picture: iStock

Nurses and other community staff in England have been told to halt routine blood tests for three weeks amid a ‘critical’ shortage of blood collection tubes.

An alert issued to the health service on Thursday also ordered hospitals to cut testing by one quarter due to supply issues with medical device company Becton Dickinson.

Alternative collection tubes are being sought, but NHS England warned it would take time for these to be imported and distributed.

‘The supply position remains constrained and is forecasted to become even more constrained over the coming weeks,’ NHS England medical director Steve Powis said.

‘While it is anticipated that the position will improve from the middle of September, overall supply is likely to remain challenging for a significant period.’

How long are these measures in place for?

All non-urgent primary care and community testing must be halted until 17 September, except for clinically urgent testing. All NHS acute trusts, community hospitals and mental health trusts must also reduce their demand to help manage supply.

What is causing the shortage?

The shortage is largely due to supply issues at US-based medical devices company Becton Dickinson. The firm first alerted NHS trusts in late July of potential supply issues, citing ‘UK border challenges’ and issues in obtaining materials and components due to a surge in demand.

Which tubes are in short supply?

1. 5mls Yellow top – SST 2 – clotted sample (used for urea and electrolytes and liver function tests)

2. Purple top – EDTA (used for full blood count and HbA1c testing)

What blood tests can still be carried out?

All clinically urgent testing in primary care and in the community can continue, including:

  • Bloods required to facilitate a two-week wait referral.
  • Bloods extremely overdue and/or essential for safe prescribing of medication or monitoring of a condition.
  • Bloods that, if taken, could avoid a hospital admission or prevent an onward referral.
  • Those with suspected sepsis or conditions with a risk of death or disability.

In addition to reducing non-urgent testing, acute hospitals and mental health trusts have been advised to encourage add-on testing to reduce the need for blood tube usage, increasing use-of-point of care haemoglobin devices, reducing daily testing where possible, and ensuring greater senior clinician input when requesting tests.


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