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NHS Blood Test Tube Shortage

By Ellie Nixon | 8th September 2021

There is a nationwide shortage of blood collection tubes, which has meant that only the most clinically urgent blood tests are taking place. Becton Dickinson (BD), which makes test tubes for the NHS, warned that serious supply chain issues across the UK was delaying the production of vials for collecting blood used in diagnostic tests across the NHS. (2) 

The NHS is now recommending that all store rooms holding blood test tubes be reviewed to assess current capacity, order levels be maintained at normal levels, and stock to be ordered from NHS Supply Chain to allow UK-wide management of supplies. 

A subsequent letter from NHS England to NHS trusts outlines a severe shortage of:

  1. 5mls Yellow top – SST 2 – clotted sample (e.g. U&E, LFTs etc)
  2. Purple top – EDTA (e.g. FBC, HbA1c)  (3)

There have also been warnings that patient care will suffer because of these delays. The NHS has now had to further outsource supply for the tubes from around the world. All primary care and community testing must be halted until 17 September 2021, except for clinically urgent testing. (4)

GPs have been told to stop most blood tests until then and hospitals have had to cut the total number of blood tests by a quarter. (2)


Examples of clinically urgent testing include:

  • Bloods that are required to facilitate a two week wait referral
  • Bloods that are extremely overdue and/or essential for safe prescribing of medication or monitoring of 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 (3)

A spokesperson at the Department of Health and Social Care, in charge of the national supply chain 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.” (2)

A company spokesperson from Becton Dickinson cited other reasons for shortages and said: “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” (5)

Becton Dickinson says it has increased production capacity in the UK by 20 per cent and adds it will deliver nine million blood tubes to the NHS this week. (2)

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