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Revealed: Huge bill for missed hospital appointments at Royal Free and Whittington

PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 May 2016

Our investigation has revealed the staggering scale of missed appointments at local hospitals. Graphic: Patrick Baker/Archant

Our investigation has revealed the staggering scale of missed appointments at local hospitals. Graphic: Patrick Baker/Archant

Archant

Local hospitals are losing the equivalent of 880 nurses’ salaries each year because of people who don’t turn up for their appointments. EMMA YOULE finds out how the figures compare with the rest of the UK – and asks what can be done about the problem

Terrence Pellegrinetti with his letter from the Royal Free Hospital offering him an appointment on a non-existent date. Picture: Polly HancockTerrence Pellegrinetti with his letter from the Royal Free Hospital offering him an appointment on a non-existent date. Picture: Polly Hancock

Patients who miss appointments at hospitals serving Camden, Haringey and Westminster are costing the cash-strapped NHS a staggering £44million a year, a Ham&High investigation can reveal.

The huge scale of time and money wasted by patients who forget to turn up at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, the Whittington in Archway, St Mary’s in Paddington, and University College London Hospital (UCLH) in Euston, has been uncovered using a Freedom of Information request.

Every day 800 people do not attend routine outpatient appointments and fail to contact the north London hospitals to cancel, costing between £135 and £160 for every no-show.

The daily loss to the hospitals is £120,000 and the £44million wasted annually would pay the salaries of an estimated 880 nurses every year.

Missed appointments: 93 patients a day fail to turn up at he Whittington Hospital (Picture: Nigel Sutton)Missed appointments: 93 patients a day fail to turn up at he Whittington Hospital (Picture: Nigel Sutton)

Whittington chief operating officer Carol Gillen appealed for the public’s help to tackle the issue.

“We know patients may miss their appointments for a number of reasons,” she said.

“Financially the cost of each missed session can vary depending on the nature of the appointment but there is also a cost to the patient in terms of their overall health.

“Missing an appointment could mean missing out on important medical treatment.”

200 patients a day miss appointments at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead200 patients a day miss appointments at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead

The NHS is treating the issue seriously as missed appointments cost the health service at least £225million every year and have a knock-on effect on patient care.

Hospital trusts say they are working hard to improve administration systems and are using technology, such as text message reminders or voice-automated reminder calls, to reduce non-attendance.

University College Hospital is investing in technology to try to beat the problem. Over the next two years the hospital will roll out a digital appointment system using electronic health records in a bid to increase efficiency.

A major outpatient improvement programme at St Mary’s has also seen a 19 per cent reduction in the number of patients who did not attend appointments in the last year.

How do the figures compare?

About one in 10 hospital outpatient appointments nationally are missed every year.

The Ham&High looked at data from 11 hospitals in north and east London.

We found that all had non-attendance rates higher than 10 per cent. At University College London Hospital the rate was 10.5 per cent.

The figure at the Whittington was 13 per cent, at the Royal Free 11 per cent, and at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs St Mary’s Hospitals, 17 per cent.

The number of missed appointments is also on the rise.

All of the local hospitals showed lower rates of attendance in 2014-15 than in the two previous years.

But the fault is not always the patients’, said one Royal Free Hospital user.

Retired nurse Terrence Pellegrinetti, 72, of Belsize Square, Belsize Park, was sent a letter giving a non-existent appointment date.

Despite his best efforts, was unable to find out the correct date and time to attend.

“Have you ever tried telephoning the Royal Free?” he said. “Well believe me that’s a job and a half.

“I spent 20 minutes trying to get through to somebody. Nobody bothered to answer my calls.”

He missed his slot and must wait until May for another consulatation, some six months after he was first referred last December.

Health chiefs say a vast number of people simply forget to turn up.

This forces hospitals to overbook clinics and can lead to longer waiting times for other patients.

“Sometimes departments will book more appointments than there are time slots to try to compensate for missed appointments,” said a UCLH spokeswoman.

“This can lead to long waits in clinics as it is difficult to balance.

“The most resources are wasted when patients do not attend clinics with highly specialist appointments, as these require multiple staff and a long time slot.”

Camden Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which oversees healthcare in the borough, called on the public to take the issue seriously.

Dr Matthew Clark, of the CCG, said: “If you can’t make an appointment please let the hospital know as soon as possible, so they can offer it to another patient and you can be re-booked for a convenient time.

“This will help us to keep waiting times down in Camden.”

Do you have a story for the Investigations Unit? Contact Emma Youle on 020 7433 0122 or emma.youle@archant.co.uk

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