Crackdown on no-show patients
"ANTISOCIAL" patients who miss hospital appointments are being sent to the back of the queue for treatment for wasting scarce NHS resources.
Every month, tens of thousands of patients in Scotland fail to turn up for consultations with doctors and other health professionals.
New figures suggest the problem is getting worse, despite efforts to inform patients of the consequences of missing appointments without giving notice. An average hospital appointment can cost between 60 and 150, depending on the staff involved, meaning missed visits cost the NHS tens of millions of pounds every year.
Dr Peter Terry, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in Aberdeen and who sits on the British Medical Association's Scottish consultants committee, said not turning up to see doctors was "astonishingly antisocial" and denied other patients access to care.
He said doctors were becoming much more willing to send patients without serious conditions back to their GP rather than simply giving them another appointment. Guidance from the Scottish Government allows them to do this.
"If it's not life-threatening or painful we are becoming far more robust in terms of just putting people off the waiting list," said Terry.
Figures obtained by Scotland on Sunday through Freedom of Information legislation suggest more than 1,200 appointments a day are being wasted.
Most officially released statistics on so-called DNAs – Do Not Attends – only include the number of patients missing first appointments with consultants.
But the new statistics from most boards also include the numbers missing follow-up meetings and those seeing other health professionals such as nurses and physiotherapists.
They show that more than 445,400 appointments were missed in 2008/09, up from around 422,800 the previous year. The actual figure will be even higher, as some boards were only able to provide details of first appointments with consultants.
Terry said some clinics now over-booked to allow for some patients not turning up. "It is a waste of resources," he said. "One of the problems is that chronic non-attenders keep not attending, so you are wasting even more appointments."
Another issue was patients cancelling at short notice, which would not show up in DNA statistics but which often meant slots could not be rebooked for other patients.
"We need to publicise what a disgrace this is and what a waste of resource and taxpayers' money it is. Denying somebody who might be more in need of care an appointment is astonishingly selfish."
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie said: "Missed appointments are a serious waste of NHS resources and very unfair to other patients waiting for appointments. The Scottish Government needs to know why so many people are missing appointments and look at what surgeries and hospitals can do to bring patients the care they need, when it is most suitable for them."
Scottish Labour health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said he was "very concerned" at the unnecessary cost to the NHS. "Ministers need to ... take action to reduce the number of missed appointments," he said. "Patients also have a responsibility to cancel appointments and inform their doctor if they cannot attend."
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