Patients who book appointments with NHS Tayside and fail to turn up could be costing the health board more than £21 million in wasted resources every year.
Figures published by the health board show that more than 515,000 appointments have been missed in the three-and-a-half years between April 2016 and this October – equivalent to nearly 400 every single day.
NHS Tayside says each appointment costs an average of £151 in wasted resource – suggesting the health board has unnecessarily spent in excess of £77.89m setting up appointments which people did not attend in that time, at a time of extreme financial strain.
The board is wrestling with a £7m overspend this year – and chief executive Grant Archibald has pledged to avoid asking the Scottish Government for any further loans after the health secretary wiped out £67.8m of outstanding brokerage last year, of which only £4.3m had been paid back.
An average of 1.1 million appointments are made across the region every year, ranging from GP surgeries to scheduled operations and meetings with allied health professionals such as physiotherapists.
Of the appointments missed, over a quarter of them were at Ninewells – meaning missed appointments at Dundee’s main hospital alone cost the health service more than £22m in wasted cash.
The health board has encouraged people to make appointments where they can – but if they can’t, to tell them as soon as possible.
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Failure to do so results in the time of doctors, nurses and clinicians being wasted on no-shows when they could have been attending to other patients.
Scottish Conservative North East MSP Bill Bowman said: “Every un-cancelled appointment results in another patient not being seen and it’s vital NHS Tayside has as much flexibility as possible for its patients.
“Missed appointments also leads to valuable theatre time being lost which has a knock-on effect on both staff and other patients.
“In some circumstances, patients may not be able to tell the health board of the cancellation, but I would urge anyone who can’t attend to alert the relevant people where possible.”
Jenny Marra MSP said: “People of course should let the NHS and GP know when they can’t make an appointment so someone else can have their slot.
“The health board should also be doing everything it can to reduce wastage in time and money. If there could be more text message reminders for appointments, people may be less likely to forget.
“Adopting this and other new ways to reduce missed appointments, could save money and reduce waiting lists.”
NHS Tayside does offer an automated text message service, which it says has helped stop over 14,000 appointments going to waste due to no-shows in the last year. It has only recently been expanded to most planned procedures and appointments.
Dr Robin Smith, associate medical director for medicine, said: “We would urge people to get in contact with us as early as possible if they are unable to attend their appointment for any reason which allows us to rearrange a more suitable date and time for them and give the original appointment to someone else.
“This reduces the number of wasted appointments and means we can make the best use of all of our precious NHS resources.
“It would also be really helpful for us if people can make sure they keep their GP up-to-date with their correct phone number and address details.”