The chief nursing officer for England has issued an appeal to the public to cancel appointments they no longer need in order to get a grip on the rising number of those missed each year.
Almost £1bn worth of appointments were missed during the 2016-17 financial year, based on the idea that each hospital outpatient appointment costs the NHS around £120, said Professor Jane Cummings.
“We are asking patients and the public to use the health service responsibly”
The CNO noted that the health service was coming under increasing pressure and urged patients and the public to “use the NHS responsibly” in 2018, which marks its 70th anniversary year.
Her comments, released in a statement by NHS England today, have been widely covered by the national press. She cited latest figures showing that almost eight million hospital appointments have been missed over 12 months, not including those cancelled in advance by either the hospital or the patient.
NHS Digital published data in November showing that around 7.94 million outpatient appointments were missed in 2016-17 due to patients not attending, compared with 7.5 million in 2015-16.
The cost of the missed appointments was equivalent to 257,000 hip replacements or 990,000 cataract operations, highlighted the CNO.
Figures from NHS Digital also showed that in 2016-17 there had been an increase in the number of patients sent home from accident and emergency with just guidance and advice.
In October it revealed figures showing that 7.5 million people were sent home from A&E with ‘guidance/advice only’ in 2016-17, compared to 7.3 million in 2015-16.
Taken together with a further two million more sent home from A&E in 2016-17 after being told to ‘consider guidance/advice’, the CNO noted that more than nine million did not need treatment.
Professor Cummings stated that, in many cases, repeated the message that patients could obtain such guidance and advice more conveniently from a pharmacist or by calling the NHS 111 service.
The CNO urged people to cancel appointments “in good time”, if no longer needed, and to consider whether they needed to go to a hospital or GP, or get advice through 111 or a pharmacist instead.
She said: “With the NHS coming under pressure as never before, we are asking patients and the public to use the health service responsibly.
“There are now more doctors, nurses and other clinicians available at the end of a phone to give advice and guidance to users of the 111 service,” she added.
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She described “sticking” to appointments as a “small but effective way” that the publish could “wish the NHS happy birthday”.
A study by Imperial College London and published in the online journal PLOS One showed that fewer appointments would be missed if patients were advised of the cost to the NHS of missing their appointment.
Meanwhile, as previously reported by Nursing Times, another trial by Imperial suggested that thousands of unnecessary trips to GP surgeries and hospitals could potentially be prevented by psychotherapy to help patients overcome health anxiety.