One of our important roles as a clinical commissioning group (CCG) is to keep check on the amount of time that Doncaster patients have to wait for NHS treatment and to step in and take action if waiting lists start to spiral.
Waiting times grow when patients confirm they want surgery – or some other planned procedure – agree a date with their hospital of choice and then repeatedly cancel the appointments they make.
Hospital time is precious. Consultants and nursing teams have to plan operations ahead and we have to make best use of their availability and expertise.
Patients often cancel their planned operations at short notice when there is not enough time to offer their place to another person on the waiting list. In the past we have had instances of people cancelling up to seven times.
Spending as short a time as possible on a waiting list improves a patient’s health outcomes and their ‘experiences’ through their treatment journey.
Last year we organised an online survey, asking Doncaster people how many times they thought a patient should be allowed to cancel an appointment before being referred back to their GP. We did this because we need to reduce the number of operations that are cancelled for non-medical reasons but wanted to listen to the thoughts of local people first before making a decision.
We did specify that the survey was not aimed at patients who are unwell at the time of their appointment and not able to attend because of illness.
The response was:
n Nearly 46 per cent thought patients should be allowed to cancel an arranged appointment just once.
n Just over 28 per cent thought two cancellations should be allowed.
n Some 14 per cent said that three cancellations should be the most allowed.
n And 12 per cent said there should not be a limit on cancellations.
We received a number of comments including this one, which summed up the feelings of many people: “If the patient keeps cancelling their appointment they are obviously not in desperate need, give the appointment to someone who is in desperate need.”
Last week the CCG agreed a new rule: patients should only be able to cancel two agreed appointments for hospital-type treatment before being referred to their GP for more discussions.
I think this is even-handed and strikes a balance between giving people a second chance and maximising the number of operations and procedures our local hospitals can carry out each year.
Importantly, we’ve built in safeguards to protect the most vulnerable users of services so their needs are met. These include children and young people, the elderly and people who have a learning disability. We’ve tried to be fair, ensuring we can all benefit from valuable NHS resources as soon as possible when we need them.
* Dr Nick Tupper - Chairman, Doncaster clinical commissioning group