PATIENTS failing to show up for tens of thousands of appointments is costing the NHS around £1.7 million.

Annoyed Swindonians suggested that people who keep their GP waiting should be fined while others complained that getting an appointment was difficult enough as it is.

NHS Digital data shows that in 2019 an estimated 55,790 appointments were missed without enough notice to invite other patients in the Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group area – an average of 153 per day.

Each missed appointment costs £30 according to NHS England, meaning that Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group could have lost out on around £1.7 million through patient no-shows last year. As well as causing disruption for staff and other patients, that money would pay for the average annual salary of 29 full-time GPs.

Phoenix Surgery GP Dr Peter Swinyard said: “We do everything we can to help people remember to come to appointments but it’s very frustrating when they miss them because we lose the facility to see people who do want to be seen.

“Sometimes, because of high demand, there is quite a delay between people making an appointment and going to one, and during that time they may go elsewhere or get better but forget to cancel the appointment.

“I’ve had people make an appointment on the same morning as their call and still not turn up but there’s not much you can do about it. These figures don’t surprise me. In fact, I thought there would be more.

“We lose the equivalent time of one doctor’s full day at the surgery every month, which is a lot when you consider how stretched services are. Imposing a fine to patients who miss appointments is not practical – how would you get them to pay?”

Adver readers were concerned. Amy Coulton said: “Seeing all the missed appointments while working in a practice is very frustrating. It’s annoying when people cancel an appointment five or 10 minutes before they should arrive.”

Jane Gallo said: “You should be charged £20 for every missed appointment. Then struck off when you’ve missed three.”

Geraint Day said: “This implies fecklessness on the part of the patient, which is seldom the case. More likely that they are struggling to balance family and work demands, have been let down by transport arrangements or are too ill to attend.”

While one in every 23 appointments booked at CCG-monitored GP practices in Swindon was missed last year, a further nine per cent had no log of whether the patient attended.

Swindon chief operating office for the Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire CCGs David Freeman said: “The winter months are always a busy time for our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and we all recognise just how valuable their time is.

“This is why it was disappointing to learn that nearly 5,000 appointments in our town were missed in December 2019, which is the equivalent of each of our 22 practices closing for four whole days.

“In this current climate, with demand for health services growing, it has never been more important for our hardworking staff to put every minute of their precious time to good use.

“I'd appeal to patients to try and bear this in mind and always notify their practice when unable to make an appointment. Even if it's at the last minute, there is always a chance the team could offer the slot to somebody else. Most practices now allow appointments to be managed online, so it’s never been easier for patients to do their bit in supporting doctors, nurses and other patients.”