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How your missed GP appointment cost the NHS £1million last year

PUBLISHED: 05:30 19 February 2019

Ipswich GP surgeries experienced a combined 31,000 missed appointments last year. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Ipswich GP surgeries experienced a combined 31,000 missed appointments last year. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Ipswich patients failing to turn up for their GP appointments cost cash-strapped local NHS services more than £1.1million last year, it has been revealed.

Data published under Freedom of Information laws revealed that from December 1 2017 to November 30 last year patients failed to turn up to, or cancel, 31,399 appointments.

The figure is equivalent to 120 missed appointments per working day.

NHS data estimates that the cost of a missed appointment is between £30 and £36, meaning Ipswich patients contributed up to £1,130,364 being wasted during that time.

That cash could have funded 10 full-time GPs for a year, salaries for 44 community nurses for 12 months or paid for more than 135,500 prescriptions.

Dr Simon Rudland from Suffolk GP Federation said it was important for patients to cancel their appointments if they could not attend, so that it could be offered to someone else. Picture: SUFFOLK GP FEDERATIONDr Simon Rudland from Suffolk GP Federation said it was important for patients to cancel their appointments if they could not attend, so that it could be offered to someone else. Picture: SUFFOLK GP FEDERATION

A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, which commissions primary care in the town, said: “I would encourage anyone unable to attend a GP appointment to make every effort to cancel it in good time.

“These figures indicate that around 31,000 people could have been booked into these appointment times.

“Not cancelling contributes to longer waiting times for a GP appointment for some other patients.

“We know that there can be legitimate reasons for not cancelling, but doing your very best to cancel will reduce delays for others and cut down on the waste of precious NHS resources.”

NHS trusts have faced increasingly squeezed budgets over recent years as a result of rising demand and government austerity.

There were also concerns that patients failing to turn up for appointments meant they did not necessarily need one in the first place, which could have been issued to someone in greater need.

Dr Simon Rudland from Suffolk GP Federation said: “It is crucial that we work with patients so that they fully understand the process of booking an appointment, and the importance of cancelling in good time if they cannot attend. As an example, many patients opt in for text reminders of appointments, which include dates and times of appointments.

“We do appreciate that some patients may not be able to attend appointments due to certain circumstances, but it is important to let your local GP know as soon as possible so they can re-allocate appointments and resources to those in greater need.”

For practices themselves, the issue creates another tier of pressure as follow-up work is needed to establish why a patient did not attend.

“It means that the appointment is wasted – we could have provided a significant number of appointments to patients who did want them but who couldn’t get in,” said one anonymous practice manager,

“Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for not turning up – but it would be appreciated if patients could cancel their appointment if not needed.

“It causes the doctor and reception a problem as they need to chase the patient to find out why they haven’t attended – this takes time which could be spent on other things such as signing prescriptions, writing referral letters, reviewing test results.

“It creates additional pressure in an already pressurised practice.”

Opinion: Time to take responsibility

In any survey of what public services are most important to people, hospitals, GPs and other health services regularly come out as top of the priority list.

But today’s figures reveal the shocking extent to which we, as patients, take our National Health Service for granted.

Without doubt most people do attend their appointments, and there are those who do cancel in good time.

But with well over 31,000 missed appointments in one town in just one year, a reality check is needed that we are not taking enough collective responsibility.

Missing just one appointment may not seem like much, but it is everyone thinking like that which results in thousands of missed appointments and a black hole of a seven figure sum of cash – wasted for the sake of a quick phone call to cancel an appointment.

It’s nigh on impossible for that figure to ever be a zero, but clearly 31,399 is far too much, and at a time when our NHS services are already facing belt-tightening budgets amid a soaring demand for care, there is no excuse for contributing to that unnecessarily.

For those who truly value their health service, it is time to be a responsible citizen – we can all do our bit to help our cash-strapped services.

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