Patients miss one million appointments

PATIENTS in the East of England failed to turn up to nearly one million appointments with doctors and nurses in the past year, an investigation has found.

By Roddy Ashworth

PATIENTS in the East of England failed to turn up to nearly one million appointments with doctors and nurses in the past year, an investigation has found.

The research showed that surgeries around the region are struggling to fit everyone in because of the large number of people who make appointments but fail to keep them.

Last night, health bosses called on the public to help avoid “wasting valuable resources” by informing them if they do no intend to turn up to appointments.

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Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GP and spokesman for Developing Patient Partnerships (DPP), who carried out the survey, said: “People are still missing appointments, even when they make them for the same day.

“Appointments cost the NHS money. Missed appointments are a waste of valuable resources. With the move to offer the public more services, and more expensive services through the GP, the issue of missed appointments is an increasing problem for practices.”

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Although the actual cost of the problem is unknown, Ipswich Hospital has estimated missed outpatient appointments costs it almost £1million a year.

In 2005/06, more than 550,000 people did not keep to arrangements with doctors in the region, compared to nearly 250,000 with nurses.

Brian Balmer, chief executive of the Essex Local Medical Committee, yesterday said the issue affected all GP surgeries, but added that doctors may be able to help alleviate it if they were easier to contact.

He said: "Every practice has this problem. It varies from area to area, and with the systems that practices operate.

"The main problem is that it inconveniences other patients. If you anticipate seeing 15 patients per surgery, and four don't turn up, there are other people you could have seen who have been told there are no appointments.

"However, the more you make it easier to communicate with practices, the better. It can be difficult to get through. If you could email or text to say you weren't going to attend more people might cancel in advance."

During July, more than 50 appointments were missed at The Surgery, in Framlingham.

Denise Guy, practice manager, said: “Every morning there's a lot of pressure and, when the telephone lines open, we've only got a finite number of appointments to offer.

“They fill up very quickly and it sometimes means we have to turn people away so it's frustrating if people don't turn up. But often people do genuinely forget and they ring up and apologise.

“I'm sure there is a loss of money involved when this happens but the doctors and nurses always have plenty of paperwork to do. They fill their time but, obviously, they would rather be seeing patients.”

Spokesmen for the Colchester Primary Care Trust (PCT) and Suffolk West PCTs yesterday played down the problem, saying it was not one of the main concerns currently facing GPs.

A spokesman for Suffolk East PCTs added: "Missed appointments at GP practices are an inconvenience for other patients, because it causes them to wait longer.

“Most surgeries in East Suffolk are proactive in drawing their patients' attention to the implications of missing appointments, by displaying figures at reception.

“Surveys such as this are useful, because they help to raise public awareness that if you don't turn up to your appointment, it affects someone else."

The DPP, a health education charity, surveyed 329 GP surgeries throughout the country between July and August.

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