Patients in north-east London are having to wait up to 21 weeks for a routine blood test on the NHS because a huge backlog built up when the service was suspended during the unfolding of the Covid pandemic.

Margaret Hodge, one of the local MPs, has warned that the hold-ups could lead to patients receiving a late diagnosis of their illness and being forced to wait many months to have surgery.

Tier one – medium

Shops, schools and universities remain open in all categories.

In tier one, on top of the national restrictions and rules, for example on using face masks in retail environments and on public transport, residents are expected to:

  • follow the rule of six if meeting indoors or outdoors
  • pubs and restaurants shut at 10pm

Tier two – high

In tier two areas:

  • no household mixing indoors
  • the rule of six applies outdoors
  • pubs and restaurants shut at 10pm

Tier three – very high

  • no household mixing at all, either indoors, outdoors or in hospitality venues
  • the rule of six applies in outdoor public spaces like parks
  • pubs and bars not serving food to be closed
  • guidance against travelling in and out of the area

People with cancer, kidney problems, diabetes and eye problems are among those affected.

The huge delays have prompted NHS England to declare the problem a “system serious incident” and launch an investigation into whether they have led to anyone being harmed. It is looking in particular at the clinical history of those who have had to wait the longest.

Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking and Dagenham, has written to Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, describing the delays as “wholly unacceptable” and demanding action.

The delays have been revealed in a letter to Hodge by Ceri Jacob, the managing director of Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge NHS clinical commissioning group.

In it, Jacob disclosed that waiting times for non-urgent blood tests at the 15 health centres in the three boroughs that offer the service range from four-and-a-half weeks to 21 weeks. The latter is the waiting time at the Elm Park Clinic in Havering.


In her letter, Hodge pinpoints the decision to suspend the blood testing service in March, when the pandemic was unfolding, as the main reason for such unusually long delays.

She outlined “the devastating impact Covid-19 has had upon blood test services in my constituency. For a routine blood test in Barking the current waiting time is anywhere between eight and 13 weeks”.

She added: “It goes without saying that a three-month wait for a routine blood test is wholly unacceptable. If somebody is diagnosed with a serious illness, like cancer, where early treatment is vital, the delay could become a matter of life and death.”

Rachel Power, the chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “It has become clear that the emergency measures taken in the spring to free up NHS capacity for Covid-19 came at a heavy cost to non-Covid patients. Many people have been left feeling increasingly anxious over the suspension of planned treatment or their inability to get diagnostic tests.

“We know the NHS is working to restart these services, and aims not to have to suspend them in the same way during the second wave. It’s important that they succeed.”

This situation appears to be unrelated to the widespread rationing of blood tests the NHS was forced to impose last week after supply problems involving testing kits made by the pharmaceutical company Roche emerged.

Prof Martin Marshall, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, voiced unease at the delays.

“GPs will only request tests or make referrals when they consider it clinically necessary and beneficial in diagnosing a patient or helping to manage an existing health condition. As such, delays in tests being processed are both frustrating and concerning, for GPs and patients alike, particularly in cases where the results will determine or change a patient’s treatment plan, and need to be addressed.”

The Department of Health and Social Care declined to respond directly to the delays. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “We are supporting the NHS as it safely restores services providing £3bn specifically to help the NHS during winter and to update A&E facilities.”



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