Plea to patients to let practices know if they can’t attend appointments

In response to NHS Digital figures showing that more than 4m general practice consultations have been missed this year, RCGP Chair, Professor Martin Marshall has written the following article, an abridged version of which was published in the Daily Express today.

General practice is under immense pressure. GPs and our teams are seeing increasing numbers of patients, and the care we are delivering is increasingly complex as more patients live with multiple health conditions. At the same time as workload is increasing, the number of qualified, full time equivalent family doctors is falling, despite the Government’s manifesto promise of 6,000 more GPs by 2024.

It’s a perfect storm that is having an impact on our patients, who often face difficulties making appointments, as well as taking a dangerous toll on the clinicians and staff working in general practice.

We do our best to ensure those with the greatest need are seen and figures out this week show more than 45% of patients were seen on the day they made their appointment - that’s around 11m out of 24m, which is a remarkable achievement given the pressures we are working under.

The figures also showed that just over 1 million appointments were ‘did not attend’ - missed appointments. These are appointments that could have been used for other patients.

There are many reasons why a patient might miss an appointment. For some patients, missing appointments can be a sign that something more serious is going on, and that follow-up action is needed.

For some, it will have been a case of human error or other aspects of life taking priority. For others, particularly if the appointment was longstanding, it may have no longer been needed. And it might not seem like a big deal to miss a 10-minute appointment, but the unintended consequences are that other patients are being kept waiting.

Practice teams work hard to ensure patients are aware of their appointments by sending reminders by text and email or encouraging them to manage their appointments online or through the NHS app.

Our plea is for patients who are able to, and who no longer need their appointment, to contact the surgery as soon as they can to let them know they won’t be attending, so that consultations can be offered to other patients.

Ultimately, the bigger issue affecting patients’ ability to access GP care and services is the workload and workforce pressures family doctors and our teams are working under. We urgently need the Government to make good on its pledge for 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 more members of the practice team by 2024, so that patients can access our services when they need them.

Further information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.