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Patients missing their appointments cost the NHS £1bn last year

The money wasted could have funded 1m more cataract operations or 250,000 hip replacements, says chief nursing officer

As the NHS struggles with budget cuts, soaring demand and staff shortages, almost £1bn is being wasted annually by patients missing appointments, figures reveal.

In response, England’s chief nurse has urged patients to cancel their NHS appointments in good time if they are not able to attend, in order to free up resources for those who need them.

The money wasted could fund 1m more cataract operations or 250,000 hip replacements, said Prof Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England.

Data released by NHS Digital revealed that in 2016/17 almost 8m hospital outpatient appointments were missed due to patients not attending, compared with 7.5m in 2015/16.

With each hospital outpatient appointment costing the NHS approximately £120 in 2016/17, it means almost £1bn worth of appointments were missed.

In addition, more than 9 million people were sent home from A&E in 2016/17 with just guidance and advice, which could have been obtained more conveniently from a pharmacist or by calling 111.

As the NHS celebrates its 70th year, Cummings is urging the public to rethink how they use it in the face of a growing funding crisis. Honouring appointments was a “small but effective way” to help, she said.

“With the NHS coming under pressure as never before, we are asking patients and the public to use the health service responsibly to help ensure that care is readily available for everyone who needs it,” she said.

“There are now more doctors, nurses and other clinicians available at the end of a phone to give advice and guidance to users of the 111 service.”

Some in the NHS believe that patients should be charged for missed appointments and Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, hinted this was a possibility in 2015 before David Cameron, then prime minister, ruled it out.

However, steps were taken to inform patients of the cost to the NHS of missing their appointments after a study by Imperial College London showed that fewer appointments would be missed if people were given this information.

Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, recently said its £110bn budget is not enough and called for an increase in funding.

His comments were backed up by the Health Foundation, the King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust, who – following a joint analysis of NHS finances in England – calculated that the NHS needs £4bn more in 2018 to prevent patient care from deteriorating.