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Non-attendance at outpatients clinics costing £12 million a year

28 September, 2007

The Sinn Féin chair of the Assembly Public Accounts Committee, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd speaking at the launch of the Report on Outpatients: Missed Appointments and Cancelled Clinics, has said that not enough was being done to find out why people were not attending their appointments after the report revealed that £12 million a year was lost through missed appointments.

Mr John O'Dowd, the Committee Chairperson, said,

"I was astounded to learn that the North has such a high clinic non-attendance rate."

The Committee in its report stated:

"In a typical year over 300,000 outpatients will not be seen at clinics. This element of unpredictability costs the Health Service around £12 million a year, makes managing clinics difficult, and can lead to a poor service and longer waiting times."

Mr O'Dowd said:

"Departments need to examine why the levels of non-attendance are at such a high level and take action to reduce this. To date, I have seen little evidence to suggest that this is happening. There is therefore a clear need to use targets similar to those used in Great Britain as a means of focussing attention on this issue."

The Committee welcomed the Department's achievement in meeting its March 2007 target that no one should wait more than 26 weeks for a consultation, and acknowledges that the Department's approach in addressing this was reasonable in the circumstances. However, the Committee emphasised that the achievement and maintenance of these results in the long term, should not be at the expense of clinical standards or priorities.

Mr O'Dowd added:

"The Committee was concerned with the variance of performance across specialties and Trusts. It was particularly concerned at the level of non-attendance in the mental health sector and was disappointed by the Department of Health's lack of commitment to monitoring performance in this area.

"In response the Department had said that it recognised that staff shortages and the need to recruit staff in this sector were crucial to addressing not only non-attendance, but a wider range of strategic issues in the Health Service.

"However the Committee remains concerned that this may be indicative of poor strategic manpower planning on the part of both the Department and Trusts.

"The individual has to attend. The evidence we have obtained does highlight inefficient administration and communication with patients by Trusts. However, patients also have to recognise that their failure to attend impacts not only on their own treatment, but also on those who remain on waiting lists who could have attended in their place." ENDS

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