Opinion: should we charge for missed GP appointments?

Far too many people are simply failing to turn up for appointments – possibly because there are no consequences. This has to change, argues John Fitzsimons

This is an edited version of an article first published by Love Money

There are few things that unite people across the UK quite like the NHS. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the political spectrum, or where you’re from, the vast majority of people are rightly proud of our National Health Service. The trouble is that, for such a national treasure, we aren’t really treating it as we should.

Recent research from Lancaster, Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities looked at the number of patients in Scotland who are failing to turn up to appointments. They found that a, frankly astonishing, one-in-five patients had missed two or more appointments over a three-year period.

This obviously isn’t just an issue in Scotland; every day, appointments are needlessly missed across the length and breadth of the UK and the government reckons that, each time an appointment is missed, it costs the taxpayer around £108. The total number of missed appointments sets the NHS back around £160 million on an annual basis, according to the most recent figures.

We already know that the NHS is creaking and underfunded; it’s appalling that we can accept such vast sums going down the drain because some patients simply cannot be bothered to turn up for their appointments.

Part of the problem here is that there are no consequences for missing an appointment – if you book a spot with your GP but don’t show up, what’s going to happen? Nothing.

Let’s compare that to dentists, who also treat patients on the NHS; if you fail to show up for an appointment, while you won’t be charged, the dentist is entitled to refuse to treat you in the future so there is, at least, a consequence for failing to cancel an appointment and simply not showing up. If we are to tackle the number of missed GP appointments, we need something similar.

While you can’t really have GPs refusing to treat people, we need an alternative – and that’s where a small charge comes in.

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