Family doctors say they should no longer be expected to treat patients based on results from private home blood-testing kits.
Concerned about a rise in fashionable private health kits, which people can easily buy while doing their weekly shop or online, leading doctors say the NHS should not have to pick up the pieces when test users get the results.
It is not acceptable for doctors to have to ‘interpret, explain, discuss or give feedback’ on the private tests, it says in a new position statement from the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).
Surgeries will not turn patients away, but are fearful of being inundated by the ‘worried well’, seeking answers to tests which have not been arranged by their GP.
So the RCGP has issued a stern warning to the manufacturers of blood tests, which can cost up to £800, and include products sold to check cholesterol, test for the risk of various conditions, detect genetic abnormalities or tell people how many ‘healthy years’ they have left.
Family doctors say they shouldn’t have to treat patients based on home blood-testing kit results [Stock photo]
These private companies should no longer expect the NHS to step in and explain people’s results, according to Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs.
She said: ‘More and more people are trying out these tests, because they are so well advertised and easy to buy, and people persuade themselves they need them.
‘But some of these tests have not been tested themselves, have no accredited ‘kite-mark’ or badge to show they are reliable and can be trusted, or if they could produce a falsely positive result, or tell a patient they are negative when they are not.
‘People can put a lot of faith in something which has a medical-sounding name and a nice label, but the advice from GPs is don’t buy these tests unless you feel you have a very good reason to do so – for example, a family history of the condition being tested for.
‘We are seeing patients in our surgeries, who are distressed because of misleading or inaccurate results from self-testing, which they could have been spared.’
In 2018, a survey of 500 doctors found 91 per cent had seen a patient for an NHS appointment in the past 12 months to discuss the results of a private health screening.
In three-quarters of cases, this led to further NHS resources being used, such as a follow-up scan, blood test or appointment.
In 2019, the RCGP issued a statement saying private screening firms should not ‘assume’ that GPs will deal with their results.
But as the tests have surged in popularity, the Royal College’s language has become much stronger.
Its new position statement says: ‘All providers of self-testing kits must make expert advice on interpretation available and monitor the impact of their test on GP workload.
‘It is not acceptable for providers to expect GPs to interpret, explain, discuss or give feedback on non-evidenced screening tests, especially if they are not in routine use in general practice.’
In October, the British Medical Journal published the results of an investigation showing dozens of UK companies are offering private blood tests for a range of conditions and deficiencies, with some making misleading claims, not backed by evidence, and leaving an already overworked NHS to follow up ‘abnormal results’.
Bernie Croal, president of the Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine, pointed out that five per cent of test results would be expected to lie outside the normal range, so very few people would have no ‘abnormal’ results, even if nothing was wrong with them.
The RCGP was especially worried about private companies offering tests for sore throat strep A infections, particularly at the end of last year, as many parents panicked over rising numbers of cases and deaths in young children.
In most cases, strep A gets better on its own, and will only cause serious illness in relatively few cases when it gets into the bloodstream or deep into the body, so test results would have been likely to have put extra pressure on GPs, with little benefit for patients.
The Royal College is calling for people to ‘take care’ when it comes to blood tests, and would like to see a ‘kite-mark’ or accreditation introduced for privately bought tests to make clear which are reliable and based on good scientific evidence.
As well as causing unnecessary anxiety, the RCGP is worried ‘normal’ results from tests which have been bought rather than ordered by a GP could falsely reassure people, so that they no longer think they need to seek help for worrying symptoms because they believe they are not ill.
The organisation also wants test kits to tell people if the test is available at their GP surgery for free, so that they do not spend money unnecessarily, and can ask their GP if they really need the test.
Professor Hawthorne said: ‘We actively encourage patients to take an interest in their health – but if they need a test for something, we’ll tell them.’