One-fifth of GP appointments in Scotland are ‘no-shows’

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Up to one-in-five patients regularly miss GP appointments in Scotland, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health.

The research used UK NHS general practice data collected between 2013 and 2016 to examine GP attendance patterns of more than 500,000 people in Scotland. Approximately 19% of participants missed more than two appointments over a 3-year timeframe. The study also found that young people were more likely to miss appointments.

Writing in the paper, the authors highlight the importance of addressing the causes of low patient engagement in healthcare, and explain that those who miss numerous appointments may have ‘substantial unmet health needs’. Dr David Ellis, joint lead author of the paper, said that measures to tackle this issue might include ‘practices learning to better manage patients who are more likely to not attend’.

Dr Ranjit Gill, GP and Chief Clinical Officer of Stockport Clinical Commissioning Group, commented: ‘We have to check for each missed appointment that there wasn't a worrying reason behind that missed appointment whether it be mental health, safeguarding issues or other welfare concerns about patients.

‘That takes time and that's a lost opportunity again, for that patient and other patients as well.’

Similarly, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) have expressed concern about the study’s findings.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of RCGP, explained that missed appointments could be a ‘warning sign’ requiring follow-up. She noted that the reason behind non-attendance could be a physical problem, but may also be psychological or social.

‘It is interesting, but perhaps not surprising, that the research found that frequently missing appointments correlates with a delay in them getting an appointment,’ she said.

‘Whilst practices will always try to offer appointments that are timely and convenient for patients, the current resource and workforce pressures we are facing, with GPs conducting more consultations than ever before to meet increasing demand, is making this more and more difficult.’