Dr David Crichton’s blog: Finding clues to missed appointments

This is a transcript of my My View column that was published in the Doncaster Star on Monday 4 December, 2017

We all lead very busy lives and have to juggle being in different places at various times of the day.​

It’s easy to forget a friend’s birthday, or a TV programme. But there are commitments it’s important to keep and a hospital appointment is one of them.

Nationally, patients don’t turn up for around 10 per cent of all outpatient bookings. Locally, over 1,000 appointments a week are currently missed at the NHS Trust that manages Doncaster Royal Infirmary (DRI), Bassetlaw and Montagu hospitals.

Imagine how much more productive the NHS would be if those appointments happened? Empty seats are costly to the NHS in financial terms, but just as important is that patients are potentially delaying themselves access to treatment that could improve their quality of life.

Worryingly, some patients who their GP suspects may have a tumour are missing fast-track appointments to cancer specialists, where acting quickly is essential.

The NHS in Doncaster is eager to understand why so many patients are missing out so we can do something about it. We’re supporting Healthwatch Doncaster – the local independent voice for health and social care matters – to ask patients some questions that might generate clues.

They have produced a questionnaire which has generated around 850 responses from a mixture of online and face-to-face contacts in community venues. The fact-finding started in October at DRI and Montagu outpatients, where Healthwatch Doncaster staff gathered many responses from local people.

Healthwatch Doncaster apprentice Elle Smith is pictured surveying three generations of the same family at Denaby – granddad Dave Harrison, 74, his daughter Kerry Covell, 41, and her son, Isaac, 20.

Detailed analysis of the responses will follow in due course but some headline themes have already emerged. Around 25 per cent of respondents said they have missed at least one hospital appointment, with over one-third of that figure saying they did not try to re-arrange the time and date before not turning up.

Some said they missed because they didn’t receive correspondence about their appointment in time. Not all outpatient clinics remind patients by telephone or text ahead of their due date.

Others said not having a direct dial number to the clinic was an obstacle.

Nervousness about what would happen at their appointment appears to be another factor in some not attending, with some saying they would have liked an explanatory leaflet or a link to a video beforehand.

A separate survey targeting young people indicates that over 90 per cent would prefer to be reminded by text or phone ahead of their appointment.

The town’s chamber of commerce is also involved, sharing employers’ views on staff taking time off work to attend healthcare appointments.

This is the last week of the survey – it ends on Friday 8 December – so please complete it by going to https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/missedhospitalappointments or searching for Healthwatch Doncaster on facebook and twitter.

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