NHS drive to reduce ‘no shows’ to help tackle long waits for care in the Midlands

The NHS in the Midlands has launched a major drive to reduce hundreds of thousands of missed hospital appointments every month, to help boost the recovery of elective services.

As part of the biggest and most ambitious catch-up programme in NHS history, hospitals have been asked to ensure they are sending timely appointment reminders, improving processes for cancelling or rebooking, and considering remote appointments where appropriate.

Trusts are also asked to consider implementing short notice lists, to contact patients last minute to help fill slots other patients cancel.

Over a fortnight (23 January to 3 February), NHS trusts will be looking at reasons why people miss their appointment and taking steps to address them, as often people can experience transport issues, difficulty taking time off work, or cannot arrange childcare for the time of the appointment.

Of the 122 million appointments booked nationally last year (2021/22), around 6.4% were missed – around 7.8 million appointments a year and around 650,000 a month.  

Every appointment freed up could be used to see other patients, including those who have been waiting the longest for an appointment or treatment.

Around four in five people on an NHS waiting list are waiting for an outpatient appointment which includes things like physio, dermatology, and minor procedures such as cataract surgery. Over three in five of outpatient appointments are follow-ups.

The NHS’ next elective national recovery target is to eliminate waits of more than 18 months by April with 48,961 of the longest-waiters remaining as of November 2022, down two-thirds from a peak of 124,911 in September 2021.

Dr Jess Sokolov, Regional Medical Director at NHS England in the Midlands, said:

“The reasons for missing appointments can vary hugely – which is why the NHS is aiming to make it easier for patients to cancel and rebook, offer remote appointments where appropriate and preferred and send more and better appointment reminders, while drilling down and tackling the root causes that lie behind non-attendances.

“We want to make the best use of every available slot we have – and that means more use of short notice lists, so that patients who are willing to be “on standby” can be ready to fill any empty appointment.

“With around one in 15 appointments missed it is important that where possible, patients let hospitals know as far in advance if they think they aren’t able to attend and share their experience with local NHS teams of any barriers impacting their ability to access care.”

By understanding the variety of causes behind missed appointments and working to reduce them, NHS teams can support patients to take control of their care and help reduce health inequalities.

As part of identifying health inequalities, a number of groups have been highlighted as needing particular consideration including those from deprived backgrounds, people who require carers, people with mental health conditions and vulnerable patients.