Miles Briggs: It’s time we lost patience with AWOL patients

Patients DNAs cost the NHS up to �120 each time. Picture: PA
Patients DNAs cost the NHS up to �120 each time. Picture: PA
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The financial struggles being experienced by the NHS are well-documented.

Despite additional cash coming from the UK Government by way of the Barnett Formula, hospitals are struggling to cover shifts, GPs can’t recruit enough staff and an ageing population is turning up the heat on wards up and down the country.

Last week in the Scottish Parliament, we debated what could be done to improve this picture.

We were critical of the SNP’s forward-planning; despite being in government for almost a decade, it has failed to ensure there are enough doctors, nurses and GPs to look after the population.

And, of course, there are the natural pressures brought by medical advances, which enable people to live much longer. That is obviously welcome, but we have to be realistic about the consequences it has on resources, and make sure the cash and people are there to cope.

While the Scottish Government is in a position of responsibility on this front, there is something patients can do too. This week, I received information back from Health Secretary Shona Robison on the number of people who failed to turn up for their hospital appointments.

In 2015, 176,917 people were no-shows, a staggering ten per cent of all appointments. This is a small decrease on previous years, but still far too much for the NHS to bear.

It’s been estimated that patient did not attends (DNAs) cost as much as £120 each time.

That means, last year, the number of no-shows drained the taxpayer – and hard-pressed health boards – of around £21 million.

Unfortunately there was no local breakdown, but considering NHS Lothian deals with around one in six of the population, this could be worked out as costing health authorities here around £3.5m a year.

Everyone agrees this is money the health service can ill-afford.

There will always be those with legitimate excuses for missing appointments, and how hard can you be on someone who’s just made an honest diary mistake?

The NHS has looked at some ways of reducing this. In her Parliamentary Answer, Ms Robison says the organisation “has to be flexible in helping make appointments convenient to patients”.

She adds: “The Scottish Government is committed to supporting health boards implement policies to reduce missed appointments such as providing reminder services through text, emails and social media.”

All this is welcome, but perhaps there is an additional way of reducing these occurrences.

We believe, for those who repeatedly don’t bother showing up to appointments, there should be a lever for health boards to at least consider a penalty. This could be a small fine, the introduction of which would be for the health board to decide, and would be fully consulted upon.

But with such a high-level of no-shows a running trend showing little sign of improvement, it’s time for the Scottish Government to think outside the box.

Miles Briggs is Conservative MSP for Lothian