Almost 158,000 people did not turn up for hospital appointments across Northern Ireland as waiting times to see consultants began to soar, it has emerged.
This means an average of 432 people did not bother to attend their appointment or give enough notice for someone else to use the appointment every day in 2011/12.
Latest Government statistics have also revealed that health trusts cancelled almost 183,000 hospital appointments during the same period.
A leading doctors’ union said that more needs to be done to address the situation.
The figures have been released as the British Medical Association (BMA) warned waiting times for hospital appointments are spiralling out of control. Dr Stephen Austin, chair of the BMA’s consultant committee in Northern Ireland, said: “These are very large numbers and are quite shocking.
“When a patient just doesn’t turn up for their appointment and doesn’t warn us they aren’t going to attend, it means someone else loses out,” Dr Austin said.
It is thought that missed hospital appointments cost the health service over £11m every year.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said: “While some patients will have genuine reasons for not attending their appointments, it is important to be mindful of the implications.
“It prevents hospitals from contacting other patients who could have used the vacant slot and results in clinics not operating at their most effective levels.”