Patients may face charges after �7.7m cost of missed appointments at the N&N is revealed

Patients who fail to turn up to their appointments have cost the N&N more than �7.7 million since April 2009, leading to a call for the introduction of fines for those who do not turn up.

The hospital has been forced to introduce a reminder service to reduce the number of patients failing to turn up to appointments and not notifying them, but the problem is continuing with �1.8 million lost so far this financial year.

The �7,723,989 could have paid the salaries of 77 GPs on �100,000 per year for a year or 386 junior ward nurses on �20,000 per year.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, said: 'The system cannot afford to waste this money on people not turning up.

'People have to understand that it is costing the system dear and when there is only a limited amount of money available it means cutbacks on care and you're wasting money that could go on care for other patients.

'We've considered in the past, when I was health spokesman, there needs to be a small charge for missed appointments so we all take our responsibility seriously so we make sure the NHS, which is critical to our needs, does not suffer as a result of these missed appointments.'

He said charges should not be universal, and if a patient had a mental health condition or had had an accident or further illness that prevented them from attending then there should be no penalty.

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But he added: 'If I miss an appointment as I've forgotten about it I feel I should make a payment for that and it should be considered if we can't get the totals down.'

The NHS estimates a typical new outpatient appointment costs the service �157 and a typical follow-up appointment costs the NHS �112, and every no show wastes clinicians' time and public money that could be spent on healthcare.

So far this year there have been 2,910 missed new appointments and 12,455 missed follow-up appointments at the N&N.

Missing patients have also cost the James Paget University Hospital (JPH) in Gorleston �6,190,852 since April 2009, with 3,802 missed new and 7,664 missed follow-ups so far this year.

The percentage of appointments missed so far this year is 6.74pc at the N&N and about 9.14pc at the JPH based on an average annual appointments total that was provided.

The amount lost to missing patients rose at the N&N, from �2,924,735 in 2009-10 to �2,947,424 in 2010-11.

A spokesman for the N&N said only around 3pc of patients miss new appointments, but this rises to around 7pc for follow-up appointments as they are often booked well in advance and are sometimes forgotten.

'The follow-up appointments are often booked months ahead and to help patients remember their appointments we have been using SMS text messaging for about five years,' the spokesman added. 'The system is gradually being expanded and used for patients coming in for surgery or other in-patient treatments.

'To help us reduce wastage, we would like to encourage patients to cancel unwanted appointments and also to sign up for text message reminders.'