Alarm raised over tripling in cancelled NHS appointments  

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In addition, 84,825 patients saw planned operations cancelled – a rise from 57,382 cases a decade earlier.

Mr Hancock said the NHS would make radical changes in order to improve the system, saying better use of technology would help to free up staff and resources for those most in need.

He said:  “I know just how distressing it is for people when their appointments are cancelled, particularly at the last minute.

“We must do everything we can to spare the uncertainty, discomfort and potential harm this can cause while being unafraid to challenge existing ways of doing things to make them work better for patients.”

“The outdated model of outpatient services needs a fundamental overhaul,” he added.

“Smarter use of technology, including digital appointments and online booking systems, will help save patients time and inconvenience while freeing up staff and resources where outpatient clinics remain the preferred or most suitable option,” he said.

Experts said shortages of staff and equipment were fuelling the trend.

John Kell, head of policy at the Patients Association, said: “The number of people whose appointments are being cancelled is worryingly high, and shows just how much strain the health service has been under in recent years.”

“These delays can have a serious impact on patients who will often be living with chronic pain and discomfort every day.”

Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: “The situation has become horrendous. People feel really panicked when they wait months for an appointment, and its a major blow when it is cancelled, without explanation.”

“Too often you are made to feel lucky to get an appointment at all, as though you weren’t the taxpayer paying into the NHS,” she said.

Some patients described being cancelled five times in a row, and ending up with an appointment nine months after their original slot.

While the NHS has targets for diagnosis and treatment, and to reschedule surgery within 28 days, if it is cancelled, there are no penalties to prevent trusts repeatedly putting outpatients appointments on hold.

Health officials have drawn up plans to replace most hospital appointments with smartphone consultations, in efforts to make the NHS a “digital first” operation.

The plan, launched in January, says that within five years, up to 30 million hospital appointments – one in three – should be scrapped, with patients instead having Skype consultations or being monitored via smartphone. Officials say this will mean the most vulnerable patients who need face-to-face slots will not face such long waits and delays.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said too many patients were seeing their health worsen, while appointments were delayed.

She said: “More outpatient appointments being cancelled by hospitals translates into growing anxiety, distress and pain for hundreds of thousands of older people. While some clinic appointments are routine, others are crucial steps in the effective and timely treatment of very serious and escalating health problems.”

“If you’re an older person in that position the news that you will have to wait longer – sometimes a lot longer – before accessing specialist help can be devastating.”

The statistics from NHS Digital show patients in the south east and south west were most likely to see appointments cancelled by the hospital, with almost one in ten slots affected.

The best performing region was the north west, with around one in twenty appointments called off.

Nationally, the number of appointments where patients failed to attend rose by 44 per cent over the decade. The figures also show a sharp rise in the number of appointments cancelled in advance by patients, with 8.52 million such cases in 2017/18, compared with 3.13 million cases a decade earlier.

Professor Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal Royal College of Physicians said the rise in  cancellations was a symptom of rising pressure on hospitals, and growing numbers of cases arriving via Accident & Emergency.

“Emergency admissions have risen by around 28 per cent in the same period of time, putting more stress on an overstretched system,” he said.

Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “Patients attend a hospital outpatient appointment for a variety of reasons – from needing a diagnosis, to assessment for surgery, or specialist input into a long term condition. Cancelling an appointment can therefore be very distressing and inconvenient for patients.”

Two years of agony – then appointment was cancelled

Anaïs Phorn, 29, had been waiting almost two years for her NHS appointment for an agonizing health condition. It was cancelled 45 minutes before she was due to attend.

The nursery nurse suffers from endometriosis, a painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside of it.

Officially diagnosed in 2015, Mrs Phorn has dealt with pain since she was 11-years-old, with her symptoms worsening after the birth of her son in 2010.

Mrs Phorn, from Devon, has had surgery three times to remove the tissue and is taking monthly injections to induce early menopause in an attempt to manage the pain.

In May 2017, her GP referred her to a pain management team.

But it was not until February of this year that she was finally offered the appointment with an NHS psychologist, to take place the next month.

“I was over the moon,” said Mrs Phorn, a perinatal community nursery nurse from Devon.

But, just 45 minutes before her appointment, she received a voicemail to say that it had been cancelled.

When Mrs Phorn called the clinic back she discovered that the phone lines had closed.

“I put the phone down and just burst into tears,” she said.

Her state of mind has suffered so much that her GP prescribed antidepressants, at an increasing dose.

The NHS has now written to Mrs Phorn, promising an appointment “as soon as we are able”.

She has not been given a date.

 



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