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Blood test vial supplies stabilize, but concerns remain


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Supplies of blood testing vials in Alberta have stabilized since the province asked physicians to delay ordering non-urgent tests in February.

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But stock of the disposable vials used to collect blood samples remains “tight,” Alberta Health Services said Tuesday.

That means AHS still wants physicians to be prudent in ordering tests to conserve supplies.

“There are no restrictions in place on lab testing and physicians are able to proceed with all test orders necessary for patient health management,” the health authority said.

“However, with this uncertainty of supply, we continue to request physician assistance in limiting non-essential lab testing when possible to conserve supplies and ensure testing continues to be available for all patients who require it.”

AHS has said the problem is a result of global supply chain challenges.

Alberta buys most of its vials from Becton, Dickinson and Co., with supplies shipped from Ontario. Health Canada has recognized a shortage of that company’s blood collection vials, saying increased demand is behind the supply issue.

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Alongside AHS, the Alberta Public Laboratories is one of the largest customers for lab-testing products in Canada, the health authority said.

A recent memo to physicians noted there are no restrictions to lab collections, and both acute and preventive testing should continue. But they asked doctors to “think critically” about the tests they order.

Broader capacity shortages at public and private labs across Canada should spur changes to how doctors requisition testing to help reduce volumes, said Christine Nielsen, CEO of the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science.

Nielsen said labs are also dealing with an inadequate workforce of qualified professionals as testing demands increase, a rise largely tied to a growing and aging population across Canada.

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“We’re coming out of COVID-19 and there’s still ongoing PCR testing across Canada, confirmatory tests sometimes needed, identification of the strain,” Nielson said.

“We’re eager in most regions of Canada to get back to most testing, and that can just be routine monitoring of diabetic or cancer patients, but there are also new diagnoses coming, so there’s a backlog in that.”

Federal government investment is needed to buoy laboratory capacity, Nielson said, with a projected shortage of 4,000 laboratory professional graduates when compared to retirees over the next decade.

“If nothing is done, we will be missing those people from the health-care system,” she said.

Though lab capacity remains a countrywide issue, Nielson said Alberta’s supply of laboratory professionals is among the best in Canada on the strength of programs at SAIT, NAIT and the University of Alberta.

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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