In Brief

Why do so many people miss GP appointments?

Experts say age, gender and social status are factors, along with changing attitudes to NHS

A doctor

A rise in missed GP appointments is costing NHS England £216m a year, according to the latest NHS Digital data.

Of the 307 million appointments booked every year, one in 20 is missed with little or no notice, making it impossible to offer those slots to other patients, reports The Guardian. NHS England says that, at roughly £30 an appointment, the total amount of money wasted could cover the annual salary of 2,325 full-time family doctors.

And the problem is growing, with 15 million appointments missed in 2017, up from 12 million in 2014.

So why do so many people fail to show up for their appointments?

Studies have found that gender, age, social class and when an appointment was booked are all factors in how likely a patient is to attend.

According to a study of more than 550,000 people conducted for The Lancet Public Health journal in 2017, “no-shows” were particularly common among two age groups - people aged 16 to 30, and those older than 90. 

Ranjit Gill, a GP from Stockport, believes younger people are more likely to miss appointments because their attitude to the health service differs from that of previous generations. “The NHS is now, for our younger population, seen as a consumer service, a bit like John Lewis and so perhaps valued differently to the way our older population see the NHS,” Gill told the BBC.

The Lancet study also found that appointments booked two or three days in advance were more likely to be missed than those made two weeks ahead. 

The researchers added that there was “clear evidence” patients who repeatedly miss appointments are more likely to be socially disadvantaged.

Commenting on the findings, GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey called for understanding rather than condemnation. “Those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to miss appointments and many of these patients are often under pressure financially or in other parts of their lives, factors that often contribute to their non-attendance,” he said.

Speaking to The Guardian, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said there may be “many reasons” why a patient might miss an appointment, and that in some cases it can be “an indication that something serious is going on for that individual”. 

However, she added: ‘We would urge patients to let us know if they can’t attend as soon as possible, so that we can offer that time to someone else who really needs it.”

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