The UK’s pathology services are experiencing major disruptions to their supplies of blood test tubes due to the ‘just in time’ manufacturing model and an overreliance on a limited number of suppliers of the test tubes. Therefore, the routine maintenance closure of the Becton Dickinson factory, along with the increased global demand for blood test tubes, had a knock-on effect on the supply chain, resulting in potential disruption for patients.
As pathology services seek alternative products, this will also lead to disruptions in other supply lines, widening the issue.
The supply issues with Becton Dickinson emphasise the need for pathology services to work in a more coordinated way, within networks with clear leadership structures, to ensure that the supplier base is wide and that pooled and shared resources can prevent significant disruption mitigate the risk when issues do occur. This coordination should include national oversight and engagement with pathology and procurement experts to manage a highly complex supply base with many global components.
The NHS’s steps currently taking in England, Scotland and Wales will ensure that patients who need blood tests will still access them in good time. However, it will impact the wider NHS recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic response. This will need to be factored in as pathology, phlebotomy, and primary care services need to be supported accordingly.
The experienced and highly skilled biomedical scientists and laboratory staff will be essential during the coming weeks and months. Reducing demand on the tubes in question will ensure that disruption to services and patient harm are minimised.
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