ALMOST 50,000 hospital appointments in Cork were missed by patients last year, The Echo can reveal.
Information obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act shows that 48,052 patients missed appointments across five Cork hospitals in 2019, including over 30,000 at Cork University Hospital (CUH).
More than 23,000 patients did not return to the hospital for scheduled appointments while almost 6,500 failed to show up for their first appointment.
A further 10,775 patients missed appointments at the Mercy University Hospital (MUH), along with 4,033 at the South Infirmary (SIVUH), 2,058 at Mallow General and 837 at Bantry General.
Speaking to The Echo, Dr Chris Luke, consultant in emergency medicine and senior adjunct lecturer in public health at University College Cork (UCC), said: “This highlights an enormous waste of time and resources in the health service across Cork.
“These DNAs (Did Not Attend) are a perennial problem that affects hospitals across Ireland and the UK.
“They are the equivalent of no-shows at restaurants,” he added.
“We have heard recently about the devastating impact no-shows have on restaurants financially and in terms of morale.
“DNAs are the same —they’re very discouraging, dispiriting and they’re also a waste of resources.
“It also wastes opportunities for other patients.
“If patient A doesn’t turn up, it means patient B who’s further down the list has to wait a little longer unnecessarily.”
Dr Luke explained that consistent communication is needed between hospitals and patients to remind them of appointments.
“People need to be contacted on two or three occasions before the appointment, by letter, text message, phone call or voicemail,” he said.
“We know that up to one in six adults in Ireland have reading difficulties and we also have a large amount of immigrants who do not speak English as their first language and these are factors that must be kept in mind.
“We need to follow what restaurants, dentists and GPs are doing more regularly which is enable email or text message bookings and cancellations, as well as phone calls to facilitate reminders,” he added.
Dr Luke explained that DNAs can occur for a myriad of reasons including people forgetting appointments, moving home, accessing private healthcare, failing to understand reminder letters, or experiencing mental health or illness issues.
“The most painful reason is that the person may have died which is very unfortunate,” he added.
“It can also occur when, maybe the hospital side doesn’t check in with patients sufficiently.
“I think everyone should get a letter reminder, followed by text messages the week of their appointment and, ideally, they should be able to confirm whether they’ll be attending or not through replying to that message, a voicemail or a return letter.
“Although return letters will cost the hospital in terms of stamps, the cost of DNAs runs into the millions of euros rather than a few cents.”
Meanwhile, the documents obtained by The Echo also revealed that almost 27,000 patients were validated and removed from waiting lists across the five Cork hospitals last year.
The validation sees hospitals send two letters to patients, asking if they still require treatment.
Patients are given a two-week deadline to respond.
Hospitals are expected to follow up with patients directly, or through their GP, if patients do not respond to the letters.
More than 16,000 patients were validated from waiting lists at CUH while a further 5,335 were removed from waiting lists at SIVUH, 1,048 at Mallow and 404 at Bantry.
More than 4,100 new patients were removed from dermatology, plastic surgery and ear, nose, throat (ENT) waiting lists at MUH.
“Validation is absolutely crucial particularly where people have been on long waiting lists,” said Dr Luke.
“It is essential that people are checked in with regularly to see if their condition is still the same, if they’ve gone private or been admitted as an emergency.
“Waiting lists need to be actively managed to ensure a waste of resources does not occur,” he added.
“Active management of all waiting lists would save a great deal of time, effort, convenience and money on both sides as it would prevent people having to wait longer than necessary or travel unnecessarily.
“There needs to be closer partnership between patients and the health service to make sure that the hospital isn’t wasting resources and that patients aren’t being inconvenienced.”