Text messages are helping to reduce the number of patients failing to attend GP appointments in Wigan.
NHS England says more than 15 million appointments - one in 20 - are wasted each year because patients do not turn up.
Each appointment costs an average of £30, putting the total bill for the NHS at more than £216m. That could pay the annual salary for 2,325 GPs or 216,000 drug treatment courses for Alzheimer’s.
Action is already being taken in Wigan, with text message reminders sent to patients about appointments.
About 65,000 reminders were sent in October, with more than 3,000 people cancelling via text in response.
Dr Tim Dalton, chairman of NHS Wigan Borough CCG, said: “Missed appointments cost the NHS money in wasted time. Whilst we understand that sometimes people forget or are unable to make their appointment for genuine reasons, we do ask that whenever possible people cancel appointments they can’t make or don’t need. The more notice we get, the more chance we have of giving that appointment to someone else who needs it.
“We have worked hard in Wigan borough to make this easier for patients through the introduction of text message reminders at most practices.
“Last year we sent out approximately 750,000 text message appointment reminders, with an option for people to text back to cancel. This both reminds people of their appointment time and reminds them to cancel it if they no longer need it.
“Patients have welcomed the text messages and we have had great success with this approach reducing our DNA rate to six per cent, significantly lower than the national average. We hope to continue to see fewer missed appointments as practices and patients embrace the new system. You can help us by making sure that your practice has your up-to-date mobile number.”
Dr Nikki Kanani, acting director of primary care for NHS England, urged people to cancel unwanted appointments.
She said: “This is particularly important as we go in to winter. Our 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.”