40,000 appointment no-shows

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THOUGHTLESS patients are costing Wigan’s hospitals millions of pounds by booking appointments and then not bothering to turn up.

More than 40,000 pre-booked consultations arranged with Wigan, Wrightington and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust did not go ahead in the past 12 months, shocking figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

Patients supposed to be attending Wigan Infirmary booked 13,581 appointments they did not turn up for in 2012/13, while Leigh Infirmary staff found themselves waiting for 12,695 scheduled appointments which did not happen and 5,811 appointments were booked but not attended at Wrightington Hospital.

The Trust estimates missed appointments have cost the borough’s hospitals nearly £4m in 2012/13, 
although the actual financial penalty could be lower as on some occasions staff are able to fill wasted appointments at the last minute, which means the organisation incurs no loss.

WWL says missed appointments are a huge issue at a time when the health service is facing enormous cuts to its budget, and has adopted a number of measures to try and ensure patients do not waste health professionals’ time.

A spokesman said: “Patients who fail to attend their outpatient appointments, known as “did not attend” (DNA), have a significant impact on local hospitals in terms of financial cost and increased waiting times.

“We appreciate it is not always possible to keep an appointment. If you need to cancel or rearrange your hospital appointment for any reason, please tell us as soon as possible so the appointment can benefit another patient.

“WWL currently uses several methods of reminding patients about their appointment that have proved to be successful for other NHS Trusts. Current proactive initiatives include surveying patients to understand why non-attendances happen, piloting an appointment confirmation service for orthopaedic patients, and better planning of staff annual leave to prevent unnecessary cancellation of outpatient clinics.

“Our text message appointment reminder service has proved successful in reducing follow-up appointment DNAs and will continue to be sent the day before, as a final “don’t forget” reminder to patients who provide their mobile number.”

The figures show 11,322 first attendance appointments were missed in 2012/13, with 29,188 patients failing to turn up for follow-up meetings with health professionals.

Outside the three main hospitals the highest DNA numbers were at the Thomas Linacre Centre, the out-patient facility in Wigan town centre, where 8,241 appointments were missed. At the other end of the scale, just one appointment scheduled for Astley Clinic did not take place.

The figures also include 34 appointments which took place at Wilmslow Health Centre in Cheshire, which falls under WWL’s responsibilities.

Around 11 per cent of patients fail to attend their outpatient appointments nationally, which hospitals say means millions of sick and unwell people experience delays in getting the treatments they need.

WWL is also in the process of introducing a+- new automated voice reminder service which calls mobile or landline numbers between seven and 10 days before an appointment, allowing patients to confirm their appointment or request that it be cancelled or altered.

Patients needing to cancel or rearrange appointments with WWL should call the booking service on 0300 555 4567 or use the link on the homepage of the Trust’s website, www.wwl.nhs.uk