Blood test tube shortages

You may have heard some news over the last couple of weeks that there is a shortage of tubes needed for collecting blood during blood tests. In this blog, we answer some of your questions about what this means for leukaemia patients.

What is the cause of this issue?

Blood test tubes, or vials, are essential to collect blood drawn during blood tests. There is currently a shortage. A number of reasons have been given about why the manufacturer of blood collection tubes, Beckton Dickinson, has reported a shortage. These include problems with transportation and record demand as people seek help for health problems after lockdowns. This has lead to NHS guidance stating that all non-urgent blood tests should be postponed.

NOTE: This guidance currently only applies to England and Wales.

Will my blood test be postponed?

You may be understandably anxious about what this means for your care or the care of your loved ones. All clinical staff are being asked to prioritise blood tests of those who need them urgently and suspend any non-urgent blood tests. Therefore, it is possible that if you are receiving a blood test for monitoring, but are otherwise well, your blood test may be postponed. You should receive information about why this is happening and what to do if you are concerned about changes.

I have blood tests at my GP; is this more likely to affect me?

A lot of the headlines have focused on GPs being asked to stop non-urgent blood tests. This is because GPs conduct a lot of blood tests, both for monitoring and for diagnosis. All locations where blood tests are conducted have been asked by NHS England to stop non-urgent testing, including hospitals.

However, take care when comparing yourself with other patients as you may not know the full details of their situation. They may be having blood tests still as their doctor is concerned about them or their symptoms/side effects. If you are unsure about why your test has been postponed, the best person to talk to is your haematologist or your nurse team.

What should I do if my blood test has been postponed?

If you receive a letter, phone call or other communication to say your blood test for monitoring your leukaemia has been postponed, follow the instructions in the letter. Most surgeries or hospitals will book you in at a later date and contact you when this is done. Due to the nature of the shortage, they may not be able to give you an exact date for a new appointment (see “How long will this last?” below). If you are unsure of the reason why your blood test has been postponed or have concerns, speak to your haematology team to find out more.

If you are having a blood test because of potential symptoms of leukaemia or to rule out leukaemia, this should be considered clinically urgent. If you are unable to book an appointment or access testing, please contact us to discuss further.

How long will this last?

The current advice to postpone non-urgent blood tests is in place until the 17th of September. It is not yet clear if the situation will be resolved by then, so you may not receive a date for your next test yet. If you are concerned about your health in the meantime, please contact your haematology team to discuss.

What is Leukaemia Care doing to highlight concerns for leukaemia patients?

Blood tests are critical for the monitoring and diagnosis of haematological conditions such as leukaemia. Some of the monitoring tests may not be considered urgent at this time. We will continue to monitor the impact on patients and take further action if we have concerns about the care of leukaemia patients.

Blood tests for leukaemia diagnosis should continue under these guidelines. One of the challenges for the diagnosis of leukaemia is spotting the symptoms and knowing when a blood test is needed urgently, because the symptoms are often mistaken for other illnesses that may be less serious. We want to make sure that these blood tests are continued wherever possible. As part of the Spot Leukaemia campaign running throughout September, we will be highlighting the vital role of blood tests in diagnosing leukaemia and ensuring healthcare professionals are aware of the need to continue conducting tests on people with the symptoms described.

Official NHS England guidance found here.

If you have any questions about this topic, you can call our helpline 08088 010 444 or email support@leukaemiacare.org.uk

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