Suffolk patients miss 73,000 appointments in one year – burdening NHS with huge cost
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More than 73,000 appointments were missed at Suffolk surgeries last year – wasting up to £2million worth of precious NHS funds.
Patients missed tens of thousands of appointments with GPs, nurses, therapists and other practice staff between December 2017 and November 2018, an investigation by the EADT and Ipswich Star has revealed.
More than half of all surgeries in Suffolk responded to our freedom of information requests, but we did not receive data for all the practices - meaning the true number of missed appointments may actually be far higher.
Some surgeries only included appointments with doctors in their calculations, while others took nurses, therapists and other practice staff into account. The cost to the NHS is based on each missed appointment setting the health service back £30.
The worst-hit surgery was Christmas Maltings & Clements Practice in Haverhill - with 4,316 missed appointments between November 2017 and December 2018. The same surgery had a huge 8,698 no-shows in 2015.
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Meanwhile, Market Cross Surgery in Mildenhall and Two Rivers Medical Centre in Ipswich both had excess of 3,000 missed appointments in 2017/18.
'It happens on a daily basis'
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Dr John Havard, a GP at Saxmundham Health, said no-shows are a "waste of resources" and "put a strain" on the service.
Saxmundham Health had 419 missed appointments between December 2017 and November 2018, and 2,473 in the calendar years 2013-2018.
"It is one of those things that would make a difference - if people would honour their appointments," Dr Havard said.
"I think it happens on a daily basis. We often get the same people who won't come.
"The more people that phone, the more people we have to see. We might get 400 calls a day, but sometimes we may get 500. We need to find a way of managing that.
"We send out text reminders and things like that - we have techniques to remind people."
Dr Havard said he understands the theory behind charging people for missed appointments, but he is concerned taking this approach could deter really sick people from ever booking a slot.
"We are always thinking about the people who have a medical need who would not like the idea of paying," he said.
"We wouldn't want to frighten people off who we want to help.
"One surgery used to put the names of people who didn't turn up [on the wall]. People get desperate."
He said one of the main problems affecting GP surgeries is a lack of new partners, with many young doctors choosing to be locums (temporary staff) - which can lead to partnered practices "crumbling".
Dr Havard added that, while it is often "galling" when people don't show up - especially for same-day appointments - the time is quickly utilised for "catching up" on doctors' enormous workloads.
'This is really disappointing'
Dr Havard's concerns were echoed by Paul Driscoll, medical director for Suffolk GP Federation.
He said: "Every appointment at a GP surgery is valuable because demand for services is going up and the number of GPs and nurses is rapidly shrinking. Surgeries are struggling to cope and this will only get worse.
"When a patient misses an appointment I worry. In some cases, it can be an indication that something more serious is going on with them. It is also frustrating that I can't use that appointment for somebody else.
"If a patient is unable to attend, they should let us know as soon as possible. This will allow us to offer the appointment to someone else in need.
"The Suffolk GP Federation runs three GP surgeries in Suffolk. At Clements in Haverhill we introduced a system of 'on the day' appointment only because of the high level of patients not attending. Despite this and text reminders we still have large numbers of patients who fail to attend appointments. This is really disappointing."
Response from Suffolk CCGs
A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups said: "We would encourage anyone unable to attend a GP appointment to make every effort to cancel it in good time.
"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 do so will reduce delays for others and cut down on the waste of precious NHS resources."
NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG did not respond to a request for comment.