Ulster Is Worst In UK For No-Show Patients

Northern Ireland has the worst record in the UK for patients failing to turn up for hospital appointments, it has been revealed. And the problem has been costing the NHS here millions of pounds a year – as well as putting people’s health at risk.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office has published a report detailing the colossal scale of missed appointments at hospital clinics across the province. The public spending watchdog stated that 13.1% of patients failed to attend for outpatient appointments with consultants in 2005/06 – a higher rate than any other UK region.

The report also said that, in a typical year, a total of 302,000 patients here – some 827 a day – are “not seen” across all types of outpatient clinics. This was due to people having their appointments cancelled – either by NHS officials or themselves – as well as those who simply did not turn up.

The Audit Office said these cancelled and missed appointments are costing the health service an estimated £11.6m annually. “In addition, missing an appointment can also mean missing vital treatment, diagnosis or monitoring, and may lead to long term health problems,” the report said. The 13.1% rate here compares to 11.1% in England and 10.1% in Wales.

The Scottish NHS only records data on missed first appointments. Its figure in 2005/06 was 10.3%, while in Northern Ireland 10.5% of patients missed their first appointments.

The Audit Office added: “In our view, health service managers and clinicians need to monitor non-attendance/cancellation rates closely in order to clarify the factors influencing them and to allow the planning of effective strategies aimed at minimising any loss of time and resources due to missed and cancelled appointments.”

The highest rate of non-attendance was in the Foyle Community Trust in the North West, with 23% of appointments missed. The lowest was in the United Hospitals Trust in the Northern Health Board area, which had a 9% tally.

Belfast’s Mater Hospital had the highest non-attendance rate in four specialties (general surgery, cardiology, dermatology and gynaecology) while the neighbouring Royal Group of Hospitals was highest in three (ear, nose and throat, accident and emergency, and general medicine).

The Audit Office said lessons could be learned on variations between different health trusts. “The reasons for differences may be perfectly acceptable, but benchmarking is still helpful,” it said.

The watchdog today praised the Department of Health’s drive to slash waiting lists for outpatient appointments. It was recently announced that all patients are now being seen within 26 weeks of a GP referral for a consultant-led outpatient clinic.

The Audit Office today said: “Given the scale of the challenge – with almost 74,000 patients waiting more than 26 weeks for a first outpatient appointment this time last year – this is a commendable performance by the Department.”

The report pointed out that current outpatient waiting list figures only relate to consultant-led clinics, and not clinics led by other professionals like nurses and physiotherapists.