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5,000 people don't show for their GP appointments every week

By Victoria O'Hara

Almost 10,000 people do not turn up for medical appointments each week, leading more GP surgeries here to adopt a "three strikes and you're out" policy.

Stretched practices are warning patients who don't attend appointments they face being asked to leave the surgery.

The figures, which have led to calls for the introduction of fines to be examined, are based on a survey carried out in GP practices last year, and show that more than 5,000 people failed to turn up for a GP appointment and around 4,500 failed to turn up for an appointment with a nurse.

The shock statistics were released by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) at the launch of the Choose Well campaign, which urges people to think carefully this winter about how they use health and social care services if they become ill.

And family doctors say the worst culprits for failing to turn up are men and women in their late teens and 20s. The British Medical Association in Northern Ireland has said it would not be in favour of introducing fines, but a deterrent is needed to tackle the problem. I

It is understood in one case a patient was asked to leave a surgery after they missed 17 appointments in a calendar year.

Tom Black, chair of the Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee, said young men and women were the worst at failing to keep appointments.

"A lot of practices have introduced three strikes and you're out policies. So if you miss three appointments in a calendar year, you will be asked to leave the practice and avail of services elsewhere.

"This is what is available to us and generally speaking it is what GPs are using."

MLA Kieran McCarthy, a member of the Stormont Health Committee, said the figures indicated it was time to consider introducing fines for missed appointments.

"It is something that you could be tempted to do because of the disruption it causes for GPs and patients - and also the wasted time," he said.

"The way our health service is being administered along with the cutbacks, then maybe we have come to that time.

"People are crying out to get an appointment with their GP so for them not to turn up, you can understand the frustration the doctor would feel and the knock-on effect it has on the service in the practice.

"The idea of having patients fined has not been one that many people would have wanted to see, but given the growing problem and the current pressures the health service and GP practices are facing, then maybe it is time we consulted on it."

Factfile

Figures released by the Health and Social Care Board, based on a survey carried out in GP practices last year, showed that over 5,000 people failed to turn up for a GP appointment and around 4,500 failed to turn up for an appointment with a nurse. It marked the launch of the Choose Well campaign, which urges people to think carefully this winter about how they use health and social care services should they or their family become unwell or have an accident.

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