55,000 GP and nurse appointments missed a year

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55,000 GP and nurse appointments missed a year
04 February 2013

A STAGGERING 55,000 GP and nurse appointments a year are being lost across north east Essex because people don’t bother to cancel an appointment if they are unable to attend. 

The figure has been described as totally unacceptable by Jennifer Speller, Head of Primary Care for the NHS in north east Essex. 

Jennifer said: “This is a shockingly high figure. Surgeries receive a lot of stick from patients who can’t get an appointment when they want one, but what these patients may not realise is that it is their fellow patients not cancelling appointments who are causing much of the problem. 

“We need patients to be responsible. No-one thinks twice about phoning up their hairdresser if they can’t make an appointment but it would appear that some don’t think it is necessary to cancel their GP appointment if they are unable to make it. 

“Even if patients find out at short notice they cannot make an appointment, it is still important they let their surgery know as that appointment could then be offered to somebody else who really needs it.

 “In the past, people have said they didn’t cancel their appointment because they couldn’t get through to the surgery as the phone lines were always busy. However, a number of our 44 GP surgeries across north east Essex now have a 24-hour telephone facility so patients can leave a message cancelling their appointment and some surgeries also offer an online cancellation facility. I would urge people to think of their fellow patients and make every effort to cancel their appointment if they are unable to attend.” 

Martin Durrant is Practice Manager at the Vicarage Lane surgery in Walton. He said the surgery has worked very hard to reduce the number of unattended appointments and has reduced the number from around 200 a month three years ago to 90 a month now.

 “It’s a very good reduction but 90 are still too many and it remains an issue we need to continue tackling. We have introduced sending a text reminder of appointments, though only 27 per cent of our 10,500 patients have a mobile phone. We have also implemented ‘three strikes and you’re out’ whereby anyone who misses three appointments without notifying us is removed from our register. This measure is a last resort and only undertaken after a patient has received two polite letters reminding them they did not attend appointments and asking for an explanation. So far we have removed two patients from the register and both were serial ‘did-not-attendees’. 

“I believe the messages is getting across that this is something we take very seriously because it deprives patients who really need to see a doctor the opportunity to do so,” said Martin.