Counting cost of no-show patients

An appointment where a patient is having his blood pressure taken
An appointment where a patient is having his blood pressure taken
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PATIENTS missed more than 96,000 hospital appointments in Sheffield last year, costing the NHS millions of pounds.

Nearly 77,500 people did not turn up to scheduled appointments at the city’s adult hospitals in 2010/11 and another 18,700 patients missed slots at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

With each missed appointment costing between £60 and £120, the problem totals up to £11 million wasted, at a time when the city’s health budget is facing big cutbacks.

The numbers, recorded by the NHS Information Centre, are published as part of The Star’s Your Right To Know campaign, which aims to shine a spotlight on the hidden facts and figures that affect your everyday life.

Today a senior Liberal Democrat politician called for patients to be charged if they do not turn up for appointments.

Norman Lamb, a key adviser to party leader Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg, said: “We should consider introducing a charge for missed appointments.

“People have to understand when there is only a limited amount of money available it means cuts on care that could go on other patients.”

Sheffield’s hospital trusts have already introduced automated telephone reminders for the adult hospitals and text messages at the children’s trust.

And missed appointments have fallen by 1,590 over the last three years, from 97,740 in 2008/09 to 96,150 in 2010/11 – despite the number of patients rocketing by more than 183,000 in the same period.

But around one in 15 adult patients, or 77,489 people, still missed their appointments at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals last year. Of those who did not turn up, 37,128 were men and 40,361 were women.

At Sheffield Children’s Hospital no-shows were a more regular occurrence, with nearly one in six appointments missed. The hospital reported 18,661 missed appointments last year, out of 119,261 scheduled.

Richard Parker, deputy chief operating officer at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said if the new automated telephone system had not been introduced last year the number of missed appointments would have risen by 18,000.

He predicted it had saved the trust around £1.5 million.

“We have around 77,000 appointments missed each year which costs between £60 and £120 per appointment,” he said.

“However, we recognise that most people do not deliberately miss their hospital appointment and often simply forget - or the date and time is no longer convenient.

“That is why we have introduced a number of measures to help patients keep their appointment.”

And Labour Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said: “People should be made aware of the cost to the NHS when they miss their appointments, but I don’t think the Lib Dem idea of handing out fines is the answer.

“It would risk hitting some of the oldest and most vulnerable patients.

“We need positive ways of supporting people, as Sheffield hospitals are doing. When I’ve had appointments, I’ve found the Hallamshire’s telephone reminder system really helpful and I’m pleased it’s starting to pay off.”

John Reid, director of nursing and clinical operations at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, said: “Missed appointments cost the NHS a lot of money every year and many of them can be avoided.

“We use several techniques to keep missed appointments down, including text messaging reminders and asking families to phone and book their own follow-up appointments so timings are more suitable for their schedules.”