NHS England has revealed that there were nearly four million appointments across general practice (GP) in the East of England in October 2023. This is an increase of more than a quarter of a million more appointments made available in comparison with the same time last year.
Furthermore, during the same period, more than a third (approximately 1.5 million) of these appointments in the East region took place on the same day they were booked.
In Norfolk and Waveney there is a similar trend. This October there was a 6.4% increase in appointments compared to October 2022, up from 769,980 to 819,399 appointments including Covid vaccination appointments.
And our local figures for time between booking and appointment are similar, with just under one third of appointments taking place same day. Alongside this, the number of Face to Face appointments continues to increase and remains higher at 79% than the regional and national averages (75% and 71% respectively).
The national figures also reveal that there were nearly 75,000 missed appointments in the same month where patients booked an appointment but did not attend, or ‘DNAs’. This represents an increase of more than 8,000 more wasted appointments than was the case in October 2022.
A recent study estimated that, in 2021/22, the average nine-minute GP face-to-face consultation costs £42. In financial terms, this means in October alone this year, patient no-shows cost the region’s NHS well over £7 million.
In Norfolk and Waveney during this month, there were 27,929 DNAs – which by the calculation above cost the local health service over £1.17 million.
Adam Cayley, Chief Operating Officer for the NHS in the east of England said: “Many of us will have heard stories of people struggling to get a GP appointment and going straight to an A&E instead, where they don’t really need to be. But this increase in appointments shows that’s not a true picture for our region, with many patients getting seen on the same day they call.
“We know timely access to GP appointments is incredibly important and we’re doing all we can to see more patients. However, we’re asking patients to please play their part too – firstly, by calling 111 for advice when ill, and then calling for a GP appointment, if one is required, rather than going straight to A&E. Finally, if you get an appointment, but no longer need it, please let your surgery know so that appointment can be freed up for others who are ill.”
The NHS has introduced a number of initiatives to help reduce DNAs, such as using simple text message reminders to confirm a patient’s upcoming appointment and the launch of the NHS App, which allows patients to see their consultation notes from their GP appointments, view test results and book future appointments.
Coping with winter pressures
As winter pressures build, patients should also consider a wide range of other NHS services as an alternative to visiting a GP surgery or emergency department. You can use NHS 111 online at 111.nhs.uk, via the NHS App or call 111, if you have an urgent medical problem and you are not sure what to do. Pharmacists can also give treatment advice for a range of minor illnesses and can tell you if you still need to see a doctor. If you are in a life-threatening emergency, you should call 999 or go to A&E.
Locally, the Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System is running its Warm and Well winter campaign, which provides information on some of the essential ways that residents can stay healthy, warm, and well this winter. Residents can find information about local health services, hardship support, advice for people who look after someone at home and how to set up an emergency carer plan, and other essential winter wellness topics. Find out more at https://improvinglivesnw.org.uk/warm-and-well