NHS WAITING TARGETS: Do we criticise with double standards?

by Oliver Duke

The NHS often comes under scrutiny for the amount of time it takes to assess and treat patients. A new initiative announced in January highlighted fines for NHS providers and commissioners of £2,500 for failing to treat patients in a 52 week timescale. As a possible counterattack to the inevitable criticism the NHS can rightly point to the financial and clinical pressure it faces through patients who miss appointments.

In a recent article with the Daily Express, when interviewed a leading GP Dr Sarah Jarvis responded on this subject saying patients who fail to turn up for appointments should be charged £5. Jarvis is quoted as saying she had “begun to think the unthinkable” by suggesting cash penalties should be imposed on no-shows as the NHS faces increasing demands and strain, she also went on to say “without a radical solution to an unsustainable problem I genuinely fear the NHS may crumble.” Dr Jarvis said non-attendance by patients “shows huge disrespect for the NHS and a complete disregard for patients who struggle every day to get access to their doctor.”

The Express also highlighted that one in 20 people missing appointments mean 10 million consultations are wasted every year. This has an estimated cost of £250million a year for the NHS.

Is a fine for patients who fail to keep their appointment justified? As an alternative could the NHS introduce a system where previous offenders are put to the back of the pile the next time they seek an appointment? Whatever the answer, it is a sobering reality that if the NHS did introduce such a fine, this would likely offset the fines it must pay to regulators for failing to meet its waiting list targets.

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