Patients failed to show up for tens of thousands of GP appointments in St Helens last year and cost the NHS more than £1 million in the process, new figures show.
The Royal College of GPs says missed appointments are “frustrating” for doctors but warned that non-attendance could be for many reasons, including underlying mental health issues.
NHS Digital data shows that last year an estimated 54,868 appointments were missed without enough notice to invite other patients in the St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group area – an average of 150 per day.
This includes appointments with nurses, therapists and other practice staff, as well as doctors.
A missed GP appointment costs around £30, according to NHS England, meaning the NHS St Helens CCG could have lost out on around £1.6 million through patient no-shows last year.
This cost, on top of the disruption for staff and other patients, would pay for the average annual salary of 28 full-time GPs or 1,646 drug treatment courses for Alzheimer’s.
While one in every 17 appointments booked at CCG-monitored GP practices in St Helens were missed last year, a further 5% were listed as having an unknown outcome – where there was no log of whether the patient did or did not attend.
A survey by Pulse magazine last year found that four in ten GPs would be in favour of charging patients for appointments.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Missed appointments are very frustrating, especially when GPs could be seeing other patients – but, for some patients, there may be more complex reasons for non-attendance and it could indicate something more serious, such as underlying mental health issues.
“Charging for appointments – missed or otherwise – would fundamentally change one of the founding principles of the NHS, that access is free at the point of need. It is also unlikely that the benefits of such an approach would outweigh the costs of implementing it.
“GP practices are working hard to ensure that patients are aware of their appointments by sending reminders by text and email or encouraging them to make appointments through the surgery app. However, it would be helpful if practices had more time and resource to follow up patients they might have particular concerns about."
More than 15 million people across England failed to turn up to booked GP appointments last year.
An NHS England spokesperson said: “As part of the NHS Long Term Plan we are investing record amounts of money in primary care services and treating more patients, but GPs are seeing an increase in demand – which is why the message is clear: if you cannot make it to your appointment or no longer need a consultation please let your GP practice know in advance so the appointment can be filled by another patient.”