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Cancel your GP appointment rather than just not show up, patients urged

15 million no-shows every year, says NHS England in new drive to reverse trend

Caroline White

Wednesday, 02 January 2019

More than 15 million general practice appointments are being wasted each year, at a huge cost to the NHS, because patients don’t turn up and fail to warn surgeries in advance, says NHS England (NHS E) in a new drive to reverse the trend.

Of the 307 million sessions scheduled with GPs, nurses, therapists and other practice staff every year, around one in 20 (5%) are missed without enough notice to invite other patients. That’s around 15.4 million missed slots, says NHS E.

Of these, around 7.2 million are with busy family doctors, which adds up to more than 1.2 million GP hours wasted every year or more than 600 GPs working full-time for a year.

Each appointment costs an average of £30, adding up to more than £216 million pounds, to say nothing of the disruption for staff and fellow patients.

This sum would pay for: the annual salary of 2325 full-time GPs; 224, 640 cataract operations; 58,320 hip replacements; 216,000 drug treatment courses for Alzheimer’s disease; the annual salary of 8424 full-time community nurses, points out NHS E.

Patients have greater access to GPs and other health professionals with longer surgery opening hours across the country, adding up to an estimated nine million extra appointments.

And recent figures show that surgery staffing is on the rise, with 5,321 more health professionals working alongside GPs than three years ago. The greatest increases have been among pharmacists, nurses and paramedics.

But patients need to let the NHS know if they can’t make an appointment, says NHS E.

Dr Nikki Kanani, acting director of primary care at NHS E said: “We know that timely access to general practice appointments is a priority for the public which is why we are growing the workforce and offering evening and weekend appointments.

“The NHS long-term plan will set out how we will build on this progress, but patients can do their bit by letting the NHS know if they can’t make their slot – freeing up doctors, nurses and other professionals to see those who do need care and attention.”

She added: “This is particularly important as we go in to winter. Our message is clear: if you cannot make it to your appointment or no longer need a consultation, please let your GP practice know in advance so the appointment can be filled by another patient.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, said that missed appointments were a frustrating waste of resources for GPs and other patients.

"There may be many reasons why a patient might miss an appointment, and in some cases it can be an indication that something serious is going on for that individual - but we would urge patients to let us know if they can't attend as soon as possible, so that we can offer that time to someone else who really needs it,” she said.

Practices were already using text messages, to encourage patients to keep their appointments, or cancel them in a timely manner, she continued.

"Many patients are waiting far too long for a GP appointment and we can all do our bit to help.”

But ultimately general practice needed a much larger share of the NHS E budget, she suggested

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