Thousands of appointments are being wasted by non-attenders across Grantham’s GP surgeries, with practice managers describing the situation as “a nightmare”.
The Journal has spoken to all five of the town’s GP practices, whose individual ‘did not attend’ (DNA) figures for last year all exceeded a thousand appointments. At one Grantham surgery, St John’s Medical Centre, they had a total of nearly 5,500 wasted appointments in 2015.
St John’s practice manager Julie Hadlow said: “This equates to approximately 1,000 hours of wasted time based on the average appointment slot of 10 minutes. As you can imagine, this has a massive impact on our services; an increase in the waiting time for appointments, frustration for both staff and patients, and a waste of resources.
“We did consider introducing a policy whereby patients who persistently failed to attend for their appointments were asked to register at another practice, but this obviously impacts on the other practices and we felt this was unfair on our colleagues.
“Many of our patients complain that they cannot obtain a routine appointment within two weeks and the above statistics do not help this situation.”
Ms Hadlow added that they had taken on two extra GPs in the last 18 months to try and alleviate the situation by providing more appointments, but had also seen partners leave. She added: “Our list size has increased dramatically over the last few years and we have applied to NHS England three times during this period to close our list to new patients, but each time we have been declined.
“We would like to encourage all our patients who cannot keep an appointment to contact us by phone or email to cancel their appointment so it can be offered to another patient.”
Indeed, the huge scale of the problem is seen in how much it is also hitting other Grantham surgeries, with Catherine Dickinson, practice manager at St Peter’s Hill Surgery, stating: “It is a nightmare, and really a waste of time.”
She revealed that since June last year they had recorded 2,680 DNAs, with an average of around 383 appointments being missed monthly, which equated to an average of 77 hours of GPs’ and nurses’ time wasted every month.
Ms Dickinson added: “We use SMS appointment reminders and have a separate phone line which is only used for cancelling appointments, so are taking steps to try and improve these rates.
“We publish these figures in surgery and on our website every month, to hopefully ease the frustration that patients have when perhaps they have to wait a little longer than they’d like for an appointment. On average, it is generally about two weeks of a clinician’s time every month that goes to waste.”
Vine House Surgery also responded to say that last year saw an average of 150 appointment slots missed every month, while Harrowby Lane said in total they saw more than 1,000 over the course of the year.
Swingbridge Surgery’s practice manager Julie Knight said: “We have in the region of 200 missed appointments each month.
“We have considered stopping people booking too far in advance, or if they do, asking them to ring again to confirm they are attending nearer the time. But sometimes we get people booking an appointment that morning and still not turning up.”
Last year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed that missed GP and hospital appointments were costing the NHS in England almost £1 billion every year. Asked for their thoughts on the issue, several Journal readers suggested the introduction of fines for non-attenders, a scheme previously considered by Mr Hunt.
Responding via our Facebook page, Danny Smith said: “Fine or strike off the time wasters.” Russ Morgan agreed, adding: “Fine them £5 per missed appointment.”
Others described the difficulties they had experienced when unable to attend appointments. Andy Fryer explained how he had been caught up in traffic as a result of a major fire, and said: “I rang the doctors to explain the situation and that I might be late. They told me that so long as I was less than 10 minutes late I would still be seen. I arrived 11 minutes after my appointment and was refused. So I became a statistic. How much is my fine?”
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