Waiting list chaos as 32,000 hospital appointments missed every month
MORE than 32,000 public patients are failing to turn up for hospital appointments every month, despite delays of four years to see some specialists.
One in every six people with appointments for the outpatient clinics is a "no show" -- costing the health service millions of euro each year, figures compiled by the Irish Independent reveal.
The patients are in official public hospital queues to see specialist teams to assess a huge range of health complaints, including bad hips, knees, skin, eye and brain conditions.
They were slotted in to be seen at the outpatient clinics in hospitals across the country for a first-time appointment or follow-up care by the specialists.
Although "no shows" by patients had been identified as an issue in the past, the full scale of the problem is only now emerging as the Health Service Executive (HSE) only started collecting the relevant figures this year.
Research shows a variety of reasons are to blame for patients not turning up. These include forgetfulness, clerical errors by hospital staff and patients receiving treatment elsewhere -- often privately -- without informing the hospital.
It found the hospital outpatient clinics with the highest rate of no shows were:
• Ear, nose and throat.
• General surgery.
• Stomach, digestive and intestinal disorders.
The huge number of no shows is revealed at a time when more than 200,000 people are waiting for an outpatient appointment to see a specialist or have diagnostic tests. More than 800 are waiting longer than four years.
The extent of missed appointments reveals the chaos behind the plague of waiting blockages, which face people who do not have private health insurance and are relying on the public hospital system.
An analysis of the most recently available figures, which relate to February, reveal the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin had as many as 384 patients with a first-time appointment -- more than one in three -- not turning up.
The hospital, which had 1,070 new patients due in its clinics during the month, told the Irish Independent it was trying to tackle the problem and in the first three months of the year directly contacted 3,700 people to confirm if they would attend their appointment.
"Given the high confirmation rate, we expect failure-to-attend rate at outpatient clinics to improve," said a spokeswoman.
John Cummins, deputy chief executive of St John's Hospital in Limerick, where one in four new patients missed appointments in February, said: "We have introduced a system whereby all patients are now contacted by phone two weeks prior to the appointment to confirm or cancel. Previously, a written reminder was issued."
Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, which has a waiting list of 21,670 people for outpatient appointments, saw 971 new patients not turn up in February. A spokeswoman said there was a link between the number of non-attendees and hospitals that have people on waiting lists for a long time -- suggesting patients waiting months or years to be called can forget their appointment or go elsewhere for care.
Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, where 406 new patients failed to show in February, started text reminders in August last year and it is now extended to all clinics.
A recent survey by doctors in the cardiology unit of St Columcille's Hospital, Loughlinstown, which aimed to find out the reasons behind no shows, found 40pc forgot about the appointment.
The most recent figures for St Columcille's showed 81 of its 484 new patients with outpatient appointments in February did not turn up.