£16m cost of missed hospital appointments in Northern Ireland
Hospitals across Northern Ireland are cancelling more and more appointments, leading to fears of longer waiting times that will affect thousands of patients.
New figures also showed a growing problem with patients missing scheduled outpatient appointments - a problem that cost the health service here almost £16m last year.
Patients failed to turn up for 147,536 appointments over a 12-month period, resulting in a major waste of resources in a cash-strapped health service.
Among suggestions previously discussed to tackle missed appointments was the introduction of fines.
It is estimated that every time someone fails to turn up for a hospital appointment it costs the health service about £108.
The Department of Health described its own performance as "disappointing", and revealed that 168,555 outpatient appointments were cancelled by hospitals across all five health trusts in 2014/15.
This compared to 167,230 the year before.
It also showed that 9,794 day case appointments, including ear nose and throat and dermatology treatments, were also cancelled.
The number of hospital beds has also dropped by 10% in the last five years despite admissions rising by 4.3%, or more than 25,000 people.
There were 6,034 beds in 2015 - 691 fewer than there were in 2011.
It comes as the number of inpatient and day case admissions rose by 25,153 over the same period and a total of 1,501,064 outpatients were seen at consultant-led services in hospitals here.
In a statement the Patient Client Council said: "The reasons why appointments are postponed should be clearly communicated to patients and new dates allocated as soon as possible, so patients can plan for that.
"Health service staff need to make sure they are patient-focused when making any such decision.
"Considerations to delivering care outside of the hospital, improved communication and better use of technology in managing appointments could go a long way in helping reduce the number of people missing their appointments."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "The slight rise in the number of outpatient appointments being cancelled by hospitals is disappointing.
"Last year, 194,257 people could not attend their appointments but let the health service know.
"This means appointments can be offered to someone else, preventing doctors' and nurses' time from being wasted.
"People often have genuine reasons to miss hospital appointments, but it can have a big impact on the care we can offer to other patients."