Almost 21,000 people failed to turn up for outpatient appointments at Altnagelvin Hospital in the past six months - that’s, on average, more than 800 every week.
In an effort to counter the shocking ‘no show’ problem, health chiefs locally are planning to introduce a text reminder service.
If the initiative gets the green light, a text message will be sent to a patient’s mobile telephone before their visit to the hospital to remind them to attend or cancel their appointment.
New figures obtained by the ‘Journal’ reveal that, during the first six months of 2012, there were a total of 20,549 people who did not attend for their outpatient appointment at Altnagelvin.
This includes appointments with consultants, nurses, Allied Health Professionals and other services. It also includes clinics held in the community.
A spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) says the impact of ‘no shows’ is a “waste of staff time and resources”.
She added: “The appointment slot is actual time with a member of staff dedicated to patient care. This can be frustrating, though doctors and staff facilitating these appointments do fill this time with other responsibilities. The cooperation of the public is essential if this non-attendance rate is to be reduced further. There are a number of measures in place to ensure the patient is aware of their appointment and it is suitable for them.
“The Trust has in place a system for booking outpatient appointments where patients are given a choice of dates and times of clinics so they can select an appointment to best fit their schedule. Confirmation letters are also issued to patients in advance of their appointments.”
Sinn Féin health spokesperson Councillor Paul Fleming says people must let health providers know if they can’t attend appointments.
“Missed appointments are costing the health service millions of pounds each a year with thousands of consultation slots and practice nurse appointments wasted because patients fail to turn up,” he said.
“Considering the strain the health service is under to meet demand, the cost of missed appointments is totally unacceptable. Every missed appointment robs a patient on the waiting list of an earlier appointment. Missed consultations and very late cancellations mean staff and facilities go unused when they could be used to shorten waiting lists.”