Patients failing to turn up for GP appointments are costing the NHS around £150,000 a year in one North East town alone, it has been revealed.

An analysis by the Darlington Primary Network, which incorporates 11 practices, has shown that the number of Did Not Attends (DNAs) is having an “increasingly serious impact” on under-pressure services.

The Darlington PCN has now issued an impassioned plea to patients to be more aware of the problems caused, with one experienced practice manager describing it as a “shocking waste of time and money”.

Neasham Road Surgery practice manager, Sally Hutchinson, who conducted a survey of Darlington practices, said: “We have definitely seen demand for GP appointments in the town double since the Covid pandemic, and that means DNAs are having a bigger knock-on effect than ever.

“People who don’t turn up are not only wasting money that the NHS desperately needs but they are blocking appointments for other people who are waiting to be seen. We even have some patients who don’t turn up for multiple appointments.”

Sally says she is “flabbergasted” by the reasons given for failing to keep appointments, with frequent excuses including “I slept in” and “I forgot”. Some patients have also blamed the practice for not reminding them.

The annual cost of £150,000 in Darlington is based on time wasted for GPs, nurse practitioners, nurses and health care assistants. Had it not been for those failing to turn up, there could have been 678 more GP appointments, 270 more appointments with nurse practitioners, 1,008 with nurses, and 638 with health care assistants.

“This is one North-East town alone, so if that’s multiplied across the country, we are talking about a colossal amount of money being flushed down the pan,” added Sally, who has worked for the NHS since she was 17, having previously been a HR manager at James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough.

The Neasham Road surgery has a patient participation group, which meets quarterly, and members were “astounded” by the DNA figures.

GP practices within Darlington Primary Care Network have DNA policies which result in patients being sent warning letters if they fail to attend on a certain number of occasions. If they continue to miss appointments, they can be removed from the list.

In some cases, involving repeat offenders, patients have been restricted to booking appointments on the day, but that causes extra work for staff.

“We just have to all work together to improve the situation. I care about the NHS – it’s very precious – but we’ve got to look after it and respect the professionals who work in it,” said Sally.

“All we are asking is for some understanding and help from patients to show a greater appreciation of the pressures, and how they are adding to those pressures if they block the system.”

Practices have asked that patients contact their surgery as soon as possible when cancelling appointments.  They can either ring in, respond to the text message they receive with the cancel option, or even email into their practices. This will enable practices to offer those freed up appointments to other patients.