Half of GPs want to fine patients for not showing up to their appointments, a survey has found.
They want to impose charges of £10 a time to teach patients to take more responsibility for their actions.
Around 17 million appointments are missed a year – around 5 per cent of the 340 million consultations which take place annually.
Two years ago Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for patients to be fined to encourage them to take ‘personal responsibility’ for wasting time.
This latest survey of 821 GPs by Pulse magazine found that 51 per cent backed the fines.
Half of GPs want to impose charges of £10 a time to teach patients to take more responsibility for their actions
Only 37 per cent were opposed and the remaining 12 per cent unsure.
The doctors were not asked how much patients should pay but several suggested £10 for every missed appointment.
But professional bodies oppose the fines and fear they will penalise vulnerable patients, including those with dementia or mental health problems.
Instead, they want surgeries to text patients the day beforehand reminding them of the appointment date and time.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘We understand why GPs and our teams get frustrated when patients don’t turn up to their appointments, and are looking for ways to reduce these occurrences, but we don’t believe charging a penalty is the answer.
‘GP practices across the country are already implementing some successful schemes to reduce missed appointments, from text messaging reminders to better patient education and awareness posters detailing the unintended consequences of a patient not attending.
GP APPOINTMENT TIMES IN BRITAIN
GP appointments in Britain are shorter than in most of the world’s other rich nations, a study revealed yesterday.
Patients in the UK have average appointment times of 9.22 minutes, according to Cambridge University researchers.
In a league table of appointment duration, Britain comes 29th out of 67 nations, behind most other wealthy countries including the US, Australia, France, Spain, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.
Even countries such as Peru, Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland and Croatia have longer GP appointments than the UK, the study found.
Leading doctors said the standard ten-minute consultation is no longer fit for purpose and NHS patients are getting a raw deal.
Patients in the UK spend less than half the time with their GP than those in Sweden, where average appointments are 22.5 minutes, and the US, where they are 21.07 minutes.
Even Bulgarian patients get 20 minutes of face-to-face time with their GP.
Those at the bottom of the table included some of the world’s poorest countries – Pakistan, where patients typically get 1.79 minutes, and Bangladesh, where appointments last two minutes.
‘Fining patients for not attending an appointment will adversely affect the most vulnerable in society, and implementing the necessary systems to do this will only continue to overburden GPs and their teams by adding more bureaucracy when we are already facing intense workload pressures.’
A spokesman for the British Medical Association said they had ‘consistently’ opposed charges, partly because they would be ‘cumbersome’ to implement.
They added: ‘Those who may be most likely to miss appointments, particularly vulnerable patients, may also be the people who would be exempt from fines and fining them is not the way to address some none attendance issues.’
A GP in north-west Surrey said: ‘When some services appear free, some patients do not always appreciate the true costs to provide that service.’
Another doctor from West Kent said: ‘We cannot continue to pretend that this is not a problem.’
Yet some GPs were relieved when patients didn’t show up with one describing missed appointments as a ‘saviour.’
The BMA has previously estimated that 5 per cent of appointments are missed although in some surgeries the proportion is 1 in 10.
They are extremely frustrating for the majority of patients who keep their appointments, particularly if they have been made to wait several weeks.
The average patient now waits 13 days to see a family doctor, up from ten days in 2015.
In 2015 Jeremy Hunt said he would consider imposing fines for patients who missed GP or hospital appointments.
He said: ‘We are very stretched for resources.
‘I don’t actually have a problem in principle with the idea of charging people for missed appointments. I think in practical terms it could be difficult to do.’