Patients who fail to show up for GP appointments should be fined £10 per missed session, doctors say.
The calls come as NHS data shows there have been nearly 4.5milion appointments where patients did not turn up since the start of the year, about 40,000 per day.
With the average GP appointment estimated to cost the NHS £39, this means patient no-shows have cost the taxpayer almost £175million so far in 2022.
But at the same time many patients are still struggling to see a GP as services struggle to bounce back from the pandemic.
Less than half of appointments are being conducted face-to-face now, far below pre-pandemic levels , with less than half
The situation has prompted some doctors to call for people who fail to show up for appointments to be fined for taking up the time another patient could have been seen.
NHS data shows there have been nearly 4.5milion booked GP appointments where patients did not turn up since the start of the year, about 40,000 per day
Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP and clinical director, told the Daily Express that missed appointments were ‘incredibly frustrating’ for both doctors and patients.
‘GP appointments are very precious because there aren’t enough of us.’
‘If people choose to make an appointment and then not turn up, that’s an appointment that could have gone to somebody else,’ she said.
She added she supported the idea of fining people between £5 to £10.
‘I’ve always been vehemently against the idea of fining people for using the NHS, but I think that’s very different to fining people for abusing the NHS.’
Dr Jarvis said there was little excuse for people these days to fail to notify a GP practice they could not make a n appointment.
‘If you have an appointment and you suddenly find at short notice that you can’t make it, everybody has mobile phones. How difficult would it be to send a message or drop the practice a note online?’ she said.
But she added a fine system would be hard to enforce.
The latest NHS data shows 1,044,698 GP appointments in England were classified as ‘did not attend’ in April, meaning a patient who had previously booked an appointment did not show up.
This figure represents 4.4 per cent of total GP appointments held that month.
Professor Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist and professor of medicine, also supported the idea of fines.
‘Failing to attend a GP appointment without a timely cancellation is selfish and a waste of everybody’s time,’ he told the newspaper.
‘Millions of people are desperate to see a doctor. By taking up valuable resources you are denying somebody else the opportunity which could potentially save their life.’
However, Dennis Reed, the director of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s, said he’d prefer to see repeat no-showers removed from a GP’s list of patients instead of fines.
‘Some might just accept a fine and continue doing it,’ he said.
In addition to March’s figure of 1,289,148, February’s 1,076,245, and January’s 1,075,661, it takes the total missed appointments in 2022 to just under 4.5million.
The total bill for missed appointments of £175 million, could pay for around 2,000 GPs, or about 7,000 new NHS nurses, or 200,000 cataract operations, or 20,000 hip replacements.
Calls to fine patients for missed appointments come as NHS data also shows the percentage of face-to-face GP appointments continue to languish below pre-pandemic levels.
Just 63 per cent of consultations were done in person in England in April, up just 1 percentage point in a month — despite the worst of Covid being over and GPs told to get back to ‘normal’.
Official figures show just 63 per cent of consultations were carried out in-person in England in April. At the current rate, it would take until September 2023 to reach the more than 80 per cent of appointments being made in person seen before the pandemic
Salford had the lowest proportion of patients seen in-person with less than half (46 per cent) of appointments made face-to-face. It was followed by Bury (51 per cent), Somerset (53 per cent) and Frimley (53 per cent). Some 79 per cent of appointments in Kirklees were done in person
The NHS data also showed just under half of all GP appointments last month were carried out by fully-qualified doctors, with patients seen by other staff including nurses at the rest of appointments
At the current rate, it would take until September 2023 for in-person GP appointments to return to the level before Covid hit, when more than 80 per cent of appointments were face-to-face.
Last week Health Secretary Sajid Javid claimed the number of face-to-face appointments is ‘returning rapidly’ but think-tanks said general practice was only recovering at a ‘snail’s pace’.
The data also showed fewer than half of all appointments were carried out by an actual GP, with the rest provided by nurses, physios and other health staff including acupuncturists.
The GP Worklife survey found more than half of family doctors worked for six sessions a week or less every week in 2021, with each session being four hours and 10 minutes. Nearly a fifth of the workforce saw patients for four sessions or less, while 12.4 per cent worked for five sessions and 27.9 per cent worked for six