SMS could fix NHS woes and save £200 million

Most of us have, at one point or another, struggled to get a decent doctor’s appointment. Our GPs have hundreds of people to see every week, and only so many hours in which to do it. Annoying isn’t it? What’s even more frustrating is the fact that so many people don’t bother turning up for the appointments they’ve arranged, meaning staff are just left there twiddling thumbs when they could be helping someone in need.

This isn’t just a local surgery problem either. According to the latest figures, one in ten hospital patients miss their slots, while twice as many are missing clinic appointments in some areas. For the NHS, this comes at a cost; £912 million a year to be specific, or £160 per appointment. That’s a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere, something of which the government is all too aware.

It’s for this reason that ministers have again begun looking for solutions, and SMS appears to be the front-running candidate once more. Instead of just sending texts to remind people of appointments, however, officials are suggesting healthcare providers highlight just how much money is being wasted, in the hope that this will encourage recipients to show up.

This method has already been successfully trialled by two hospital trusts in London, with results that suggest the NHS could stand to save as much as £200 million a year. It’s not all about saving money, though, as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt highlights.

Commenting on the suggestions, he said: “The NHS is busier than ever and so it’s critical that hospitals make every single penny count. Innovations like this can lead to large savings over time as well as improving patient experience.”

Adding to this, Dr Dominic King, who’s been working on the trials, said his team was “struck by the magnitude of the effect” that highlighting no-show costs had on attendance rates.

So why hasn’t this technique already been used elsewhere in the country already? Well, critics might argue that guilt-tripping people isn’t fair, but it’s worth noting that many of those who don’t turn up for appointments simply aren’t aware of the impact this is having – as the information just isn’t published or discussed often enough.

As we pointed out with this recent infographic, the money wasted on DNAs could be spent on all manner of amazing things – 2,793 ultrasound machines, for example, or 7,043 nurses’ salaries for a year. We think that outweighs the downside of making a few people feel a little guilty, don’t you?