More than eight appointments a week on average for every full-time GP are marked as ‘did not attends’ (DNAs), a GP poll of more than 500 GPs found.
The findings suggest more than 14m appointments are missed annually, at a cost of around £300m to the NHS.
GP leaders said the ‘plague’ of DNAs was driving up waiting times and putting patients at risk.
One in 20 GPs said more than 40 appointments were lost per full-time partner each week to DNAs.
GP appointments missed
A third of GPs who responded to the poll said DNAs were becoming more common – at a time when practices increasingly struggle to fit patients into available appointments.
Two thirds of GPs said waits for appointments at their practice had become longer in the past year, and one in six said patients now wait more than two weeks for an appointment on average.
GP practices are paid around £136 per patient per year and patients consult six times on average according to official data. On this basis, the 14m appointments lost to the health service are worth £317m.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘It is a problem that plagues not just GPs but hospitals as well.
Patients are being put at risk because of DNAs."
Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chairman
‘Ultimately it’s not about the financial cost, but the opportunity cost to the NHS – GPs are not able to offer these appointments to others.’
He said patients were waiting longer because appointments were being wasted.
‘We need more of a patient/public-facing campaign to make patients appreciate it is not just the service but other patients they are putting at risk through DNAs,’ he said.
One respondent said the DNA rate at their practice had been 8% for several years.
A locum GP said that for each two-hour session he worked, between one and three patients did not show up.
Another GP said: ‘Patients will complain if they can't get an appointment while others waste them. Even worse we have an increasing number who DNA but the booked NHS translator attends.’
Many GPs responding to the survey, however, said missed appointments offered a vital chance to catch up with paperwork. One respondent wrote: ‘I have absolutely no problem with DNAs. If a patient doesn't attend I have time to do referrals, fill other forms, do a little admin, or even have a breather.’
Another said: ‘Officially I should say that it is a problem but honestly...it's a blessed relief.’
GP waiting times
The RCGP reported last year that more than 30m patients a year are unable to get a GP appointment when seeking treatment because of the slump in GP funding and rising demand.
NHS England cited figures last year showing that 12m GP appointments a year were missed.
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘With waiting times for a GP appointment now an issue of national concern – and patients in some areas of the country having to wait up to a month to see their family doctor – we are very surprised that such a high number of patients are not attending.
‘However, it is important that this is not turned into a patient shaming exercise. In most cases, patients will have a very good reason for not attending their GP surgery.
‘With an ageing and elderly population, and more patients being treated for multiple and complex diseases, non-attendance can also be a sign of something more worrying and, wherever possible, surgeries will try to follow this up and find out why this has happened.’