It wasn’t the first time it had happened, and it won’t be the last, but that doesn’t make it any easier. As any healthcare worker will tell you, time is a precious commodity. I can’t help feeling that my time and the time of those who had helped arrange that appointment had been wasted.
There may be a valid reason – such as illness, for example – but studies indicate that most patients who don’t turn up for any appointment simply forget. To make matters worse, they will soon be consulting their GP again with the same problem that would have been dealt with at the appointment they missed.
We’re not talking about the odd DNA here and there. It seems that forgetfulness is a national problem. In 2005–2006, data from 141 hospital trusts suggested that 6.8 million appointments were missed. Yet, despite this being another successive rise, few solutions have been put on the table to tackle the problem. One suggestion was to remind people with text messages but, if you have to text 1,000 people so that you can catch the 100 that wouldn’t have turned up, we’re making work for ourselves and not really addressing the problem.
One creative way to encourage attendance is to utilise the importance people place on ‘authority’ figures. A letter signed by a consultant, for example, might be more likely to encourage attendance than one signed by the outpatients booking clerk.
However, I think there is only one solution to dealing with those who ‘forget’ to turn up for appointments. In my opinion, the time has come for us to charge those with no valid excuse. It’s certainly worked in other organisations. How many times have you forgotten a dentist appointment?
If this sounds a little harsh, then just consider the knock-on effects. DNAs cost trusts millions at a time when they are attempting to correct financial shortfalls, waiting lists have grown, wards have been closed, services slashed and many of our nursing colleagues have lost their posts.
We must enforce the message that, as much as our patients have rights, they also have responsibilities – and one of them is to turn up for their appointment.
Rob Harteveldt is a cardiac liaison nurse at Stoke Mandeville Hospital
NEXT WEEK: Alison Gadsby on the ethical decisions nurses face every day