The Department of Health is warning of severe disruption to supplies of a life-saving kidney treatment used for intensive care patients with Covid-19.
The three main companies which supply the NHS in the UK are reporting limited supplies, and trusts are being asked to minimise use wherever possible.
The government says a recent surge in demand is to blame.
Almost 30% of patients with Covid-19 on ventilators require this type of treatment, the latest UK data suggests.
The treatment, known as haemofiltration, is a delicate process which mimics the kidney, by continually cleaning the blood of toxins and rebalancing it with, for example, electrolytes.
The technique requires a very specific range of kit and fluids to work.
But during the pandemic, more seriously ill patients are experiencing blood clots which are causing the machines to become clogged up and stop working after a few hours instead of several days.
One intensive care consultant in London told the BBC they were using three to four times the normal levels of this type of consumable equipment.
Another ICU doctor said they had recently been told the trust had only one day’s supply left.
‘Living hand to mouth’
The government’s alert to the NHS lists more than 40 different fluids and parts of kit used regularly in life-saving kidney support as being in short supply.
Three suppliers, Baxter Health Care, Fresenius Medical Care (UK) and B Braun Medical – which make up 70% of the NHS market – have reported limited supplies of these items.
The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine said the problem was adding to the stress of the situation during the coronavirus epidemic, and that in terms of supply they were “living hand to mouth”.
Trusts are being asked to minimise use wherever possible and for those which don’t need supplies, to offer them to other parts of the NHS who are in need.
“While the rapid increase in demand for renal dialysis has placed additional pressure on staff and equipment, there is currently sufficient capacity in the system to support treatment of both Covid-19 and regular dialysis patients in the NHS,” as spokesman for the Department for Health and Social Care said.
“Guidance has been provided to clinical teams to support them in maintaining provision of dialysis treatment.”