THE equivalent of a GP’s entire working week was wasted by patients who didn’t bother to turn up for appointments in seven of West Fife’s surgeries.

And the practice manager at Hospital Hill Surgery in Dunfermline said it was “completely unacceptable” that some patients were failing to inform their practice when they couldn’t attend.

Following an investigation by the Press, it was revealed that 35 hours of time was wasted, and 252 appointments missed, on the week of January 22-26 at seven Rosyth and Dunfermline surgeries because of non-attendance.

This figure also included appointments with nurses and phlebotomists.

“Practices receive complaints daily that patients ‘can’t get appointments’,” said practice manager Susan Reid. “This survey of only one week should go some way to explaining one of the main reasons for this.

“112 patients who were unable to make appointments that week in Dunfermline and Rosyth would have been able to see a GP had these appointments been cancelled. 

"In effect, double that number of patients have been affected - presumably those who failed to attend will be booking another appointment!”

She continued: "There is no direct penalty for people who fail to keep their appointments – all the practices can do is write to patients informing them it is unacceptable, with the eventual option of removing patients who persistently ‘offend’ from that practices’ list of patients.

"However, this merely moves the problem to another practice, rather than solving the issue of non-attendance!”

To try and deal with the problem, some surgeries send text alerts to patients. However, non-attendance rate figures were not markedly lower than practices which do not send reminders.

One of the seven surgeries in the area that we surveyed decided to only offers appointments ‘on the day’ to try to cut down the rate of missed appointments.

"While this has dramatically reduced the number of patients at this practice who fail to attend, not all practices wish to restrict the booking of appointments this way,” explained Susan.

She said there are several ways in which patients can contact the surgeries to cancel appointments.

The practice manager said: "It is completely unacceptable for patients to fail to inform their practice that they no longer wish an appointment.

"All can be contacted by telephone – while it is accepted that the telephones are busy first thing in the morning, this is not the case all day.

"Patients should be able to get through to surgeries more easily later in the day.

"Some practices actively encourage patients who do not require a 'same day' appointment to wait and call in the afternoons for an appointment a week or so ahead - the phones are less busy in the afternoons.

"There is also an app called 'Patient Access', used by some of the surgeries, which patients can install on their phones and tablets. Not all practices include the appointments system on their Patient Access app, but if they do, appointments can be cancelled this way."

Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Liz Smith said: “Missed appointments are clearly placing a massive strain on NHS Fife at a time when they can least afford it.

“There is also a moral case here, patients must be aware of the financial pressures that the NHS is operating under and do more to cancel ahead of time or work harder to attend.”

Recent figures suggest Fife patient lists are among the highest in the country. NHS Fife has an average of 6,827 patients per practice, while the national average is almost a thousand less at 5,961.

Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Claire Baker said: “We have seen GP practices close, an increase in the use of locums to cover for a lack of GP doctors, and patients moved from practice to practice.

"We need to see a genuine guarantee from the Scottish Government that they will address struggling GP services throughout Fife.

“Our GPs need to get the support they deserve.”