Revealed: The huge bill for missed appointments at Queen’s and King George Hospitals
PUBLISHED: 12:53 25 April 2016 | UPDATED: 12:53 25 April 2016
Missed appointments at Queen’s and King George hospitals cost the NHS £8.8million a year and have a huge knock-on effect on patient care. But why do 225 patients every day fail to turn up, wasting £160 a time? EMMA YOULE reports
When pensioner Pamela Lucas was forced to miss a hospital appointment she faced the “saga” of sending her 91-year-old husband by bus to cancel, in an effort to avoid wasting NHS time and money.
The retired social services worker was determined to contact King George Hospital when she came down with shingles and was told by her doctor not to attend an appointment.
But it was so hard to get in touch that she eventually took the extreme step of asking her elderly husband George to make the mile-long round trip to the hospital to cancel in person.
“I don’t have a computer but I did ring up the hospital and got pushed from pillar to post,” said the 84-year-old, who lives in a retirement home in Chadwell Heath.
“It became a saga.
“People moan about elderly people, but if they don’t give you a phone number to cancel what are you supposed to do?”
The NHS is treating the issue seriously as missed appointments cost the cash-strapped health service £225million every year and have a knock-on effect on patient care.
A Recorder investigation has shown 82,000 appointments annually – or 225 every day – are missed at Queen’s Hospital, Romford, and King George Hospital, Goodmayes, costing £8.8million every year.
The trust in charge of the hospitals has appealed for the public’s help in tackling the issue.
Matthew Hopkins, chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We understand it’s sometimes unavoidable that people cannot make it on the day.
“But missed appointments are an avoidable waste of money and resources.
“The money we estimate is lost to this each year could be much better spent funding 80 consultants or 150 nurses.”
Lost letters: The NHS should be able to rely on the postal service
Retired medical secretary Alice Warren has blamed Royal Mail for some hospital appointments going to waste.
The 83-year-old, of Collier Row, received a letter complaining she had missed an appointment at Queen’s Hospital in February.
“Well I never got the first letter at all and even the second one was delivered to the wrong address,” she told the Recorder.
“The NHS ought to be able to rely on the Post Office.”
Alice has since written to her MP to highlight the issue.
The trust said it has been “working hard” to improve administration systems and is using technology, such as text message reminders, to reduce non-attendance.
But the fault is not always the patient’s, said one Queen’s Hospital user.
Trading standards consultant Dave Quinton, of Horndon Road, Collier Row, had an appointment to see a consultant about kidney stones just before Christmas.
The doctor cancelled and he has been forced to wait six months, until June, for another appointment to treat the painful condition.
“There is also the other side of the coin which is the admin chaos at hospitals,” said the 52-year-old.
“Whether it’s because they’ve sacked so many admin staff or some other reason I don’t know.”
Health chiefs say a vast number of appointments are wasted simply because people forget to attend.
This forces hospitals to overbook clinics and can lead to longer waiting times for other patients.
Havering Clinical Commissioning Group, which oversees healthcare in the borough, has called on the public to take the issue seriously and highlighted the impact of missed hospital appointments on GPs.
“If a patient misses a number of hospital appointments they are referred back to their GP, which impacts on our already busy GP practices,” said a spokeswoman.
“Missed appointments are a real issue for both hospitals and GPs which is why it’s so important that if you can’t attend, or no longer need, an appointment that you call and cancel it.”
How do Queen’s and King George compare to other hospitals?
About one in 10 hospital outpatient appointments nationally are missed every year in England.
The Recorder looked at data from 11 hospitals in north and east London.
We found that all had non-attendance rates higher than 10 per cent.
The figure at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust, which runs Queen’s and King George hospitals, was 14 per cent.
The number of missed appointments is also on the rise.
Most of the hospitals showed lower rates of attendance in 2014-15 than in the two years previously.
The number of missed appointments peaked at Queen’s and King George in 2013-14 and fell slightly the following year.