Docs told to save Covid swabs and vital NHS tests for ‘urgent’ patients as Roche admit supply shortages

DOCTORS have been ordered to only request “urgent” blood tests for weeks due to national shortages of key kit – including Covid swabs and antibody tests.

Coronavirus swabs and other tests for conditions including cancer are under threat due to a drop in processing capacity.

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Covid swabs are included in a national shortage of vital NHS kit


Covid swabs are included in a national shortage of vital NHS kitCredit: Getty Images – Getty

The issue could take up to two weeks to fix and Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche said the issues have been caused after the firm moved to a new warehouse.

It claimed that Covid tests would be prioritised and that they are doing “everything they can” to make sure the NHS is not impacted by this.

The NHS has seen a sharp fall in the number of lab checks it can carry out for a wide range of health conditions – such as diabetes, heart disease and prostate cancer.

The testing bottleneck is due to a “national shortage” of critical ingredients and equipment needed to process samples.

Maker Roche said the delays were not Covid related.

Health bosses hope the kit shortfall will be fixed in the next fortnight so normal testing can resume.



In an email seen by GP magazine Pulse, one lab boss warned “if any tests are required urgently we can perform these…but it is imperative that we protect the limited reagent supply we have.”

Local NHS bosses warn the problem affects tests “such as UE, LFT, Glucose, Bone profile, Thyroid, Troponin, Cardiac enzymes, PSA etc and also some serology tests such as HIV, Hep B, Hep C”.

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Waiting times for routine checks were badly affected by the pandemic.
Now some patients will also be forced to wait for cancer tests because labs cannot process them.

Now family medics warn thousands of sick Brits would be hit by further delays as a result of the go-slow.

Dr Phil Williams, a GP partner in Lincoln, said: “There’s no such thing as a routine blood test, and they’ve not given any guidance on what is urgent and what isn’t.

“They’ve given no indication to practices how long this will last which makes planning very difficult.

“We’re already trying to clear a backlog of blood tests from the beginning of Covid, and we’re approaching another period where patients may refuse to come in for blood tests again.”

Experts said they were already trying to clear a backlog of blood tests before they were made aware of issues with capacity


Experts said they were already trying to clear a backlog of blood tests before they were made aware of issues with capacityCredit: Getty Images – Getty

NHS Test and Trace has already struggled to match government promises of a “world-beating” system, with testing capacity failing to keep up with a surge in demand in September and last week’s technical glitch meaning that contact tracing relating to 15,000 infected people was delayed.

This morning, international trade secretary Liz Truss said Roche are “pushing hard” to resolve the issue and there is “no evidence” of tests being delayed yet.

She urged people who need a Covid test to still go through the process.

Speaking to Sky News she said the health secretary was “aware” of the issue and that Roche is “pushing very hard” to resolve it.

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A spokesperson for Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland said Covid tests would not be affected by the logistics issue.

They said: “We deeply regret that there has been a delay in the dispatch of some products and apologise to any of our customers who have been impacted.

“The teams at the National Distribution Centre are working exceptionally hard, day and night, to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

“As well as extending working hours, we have recruited extra staff and, where they can, our dedicated teams on the ground are working with customers to distribute products and minimise service disruption.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “Roche has alerted hospitals to an issue with their supply chain, and they will be working urgently to resolve this issue.”

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