Since being elected seven months ago I’ve been visiting and writing to local GP surgeries to hear what’s happening in the lives of local health services. One of the things I’ve been particularly struck by is that all practices have raised the issue of the extraordinary number of appointments that people don’t turn up to.
Having heard this story from a large number of doctors, I asked all local surgeries how many appointments had been missed in a recent three-month period. The total figure amounted to a somewhat dismal 4,259 – the equivalent of 12,777 a year. If we assume each of those missed appointments would have lasted ten minutes (and some would certainly have lasted longer), then locally we are wasting 71 working weeks of GP and nurse time every year.
This is a terribly frustrating waste of local resources – one that is causing some people who are genuinely ill to have to wait weeks to see their GP. This is not just a local problem. Many of you will have seen the recent comments by the Chief Nursing Officer that, across the country, missed appointments are costing the NHS £1bn a year. This is clearly not good enough. The NHS Constitution emphasises patients' responsibilities to the NHS, including that they "should keep appointments, or cancel within reasonable time". The NHS is a hugely precious resource; it is extremely important that we use it wisely.
Understandably some GP practices have started to introduce a policy of removing frequent non-attenders from their list whilst taking care to ensure vulnerable patients are not wrongly removed. I know that other solutions are being introduced, for example using text message or email reminders, online cancellation forms, or having appointments via Skype for those who do not need a physical examination. But we can all do more to help. From what local practitioners have told me, those most likely to miss their appointments are young adults who don’t visit the doctor very often. Please encourage them – and anyone else – to ring or text if they no longer need or can’t attend. It only takes a minute. Their cancellation is another patient’s appointment.