Equivalent of 375 GP practices lost to missed appointments every year

More than 16m appointments at GP practices are lost every year because patients fail to attend - equivalent to the annual output of 375 average practices, GPonline analysis reveals.

(Photo: iStock.com/anyaberkut)
(Photo: iStock.com/anyaberkut)

For every working day, a total of 63,166 appointments at GP practices are lost because patients did not attend (DNA) - nearly one and a half times the total number of appointments an average practice delivers in a full year.

GPonline analysis of official data on GP appointments published last week by NHS Digital shows that of the total 307.4m appointments at practices in the year from 1 November 2017 to 31 October 2018, 16.4m were lost to DNAs.

Roughly 54% of appointments at practices were delivered by GPs over this period, meaning that around 8.9m GP appointments were lost. This is equivalent to the number of consultations delivered annually by 1,824 full-time equivalent GPs - and means that every single working day, the annual output of seven full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs is wiped out by DNAs.

GP workforce

Eradicating this huge loss to the capacity of general practice could effectively take the government more than a third of the way to delivering its pledge to boost the GP workforce by 5,000. Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock was forced earlier this year to scrap the 2020/21 deadline for delivering the workforce increase as GP numbers have continued to stagnate.

Cutting out DNAs could also help practices offer quicker access - although two thirds of appointments are delivered within a week, many patients wait longer.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: 'Every practice appointment is a precious resource and when practices are struggling to meet growing demands from patients, many of whom need more consultations with their GP, it’s really important for patients to do all they can to make the most of appointments provided to them.'

The data published by NHS Digital - drawn from practice IT systems at nearly all practices in England - offer perhaps the most accurate picture to date of appointments in general practice.

Access problems

The GPC said last week that the figures provided clear evidence of the huge workload being delivered by general practice - but warned that they were just the 'tip of the iceberg', because they did not reflect much of the evening and weekend work carried out, or the many hours spent on admin.

Dr Vautrey added: 'While GPs and practice staff can welcome the occasional DNA and will not be short of something to do during missed appointments - and that could be just trying to catch up time on already overrunning surgeries - it is frustrating if some patients repeatedly fail to attend and then cause access problems for others who really need to be seen.

'Practices will try many ways to address this problem but ultimately patients do need to play their part too.'

GPonline analysis shows that in addition to the 8.9m GP appointments lost every year to DNAs, around 7.6m appointments with other practice staff are lost.

At every GP practice in England, around 2,340 appointments in total are lost to DNAs each year. The average GP is likely to see 260 DNAs a year - roughly one every working day, the figures suggest.

Polling by GPonline in the past has suggested the rate of DNAs may be significantly higher, however. In 2015, this website estimated that around 14m GP appointments a year were lost to DNAs.

NHS England cited figures in 2014 suggesting that around 12m appointments were lost across GPs and other staff every year in practices to DNAs.

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