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GP text messaging service hopes to reduce wasted appointments and ease pressure on A&E

By Jade Edwards

A new GP text messaging service to reduce the number of appointments wasted when patients fail to show up could help ease pressure on A&E.

Doctors surgeries across the Towns are introducing the system which sends patients appointment reminders direct to their phone. If they are unable to attend, they can cancel there and then by replying CANCEL. The appointment can then be offered to another patient.

The service, funded by Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, is described as a ‘win-win for everyone’ as it improves access to treatment for patients, takes pressure off GP receptionists and could stop people making unnecessary visits to A&E.

Sarah Vaux, chief nurse at Medway CCG
Sarah Vaux, chief nurse at Medway CCG

Sarah Vaux, chief nurse at Medway CCG, said: “We know there is a big problem where patients have booked appointments but don’t always turn up.

“It reduces the availability of other on the day appoints so when people need to see their GP more urgently they often they’ll find that they can’t get one.

“It can also put a strain on other parts of the system. Patients that should be seeing their GP often end up going to A&E, for instance. There’s a big knock-on effect.”

Caroline Selkirk, chief accountable officer for Medway CCG, said: “The inability of patients to get to their GP is often a criticism of the system and often given as a reason why people present themselves at A&E, which puts further pressure on our colleagues in Medway Maritime Hospital.

“Everybody has a role to play in ensuring the NHS works as well as possible and that includes patients.

“If patients provide their mobile numbers to their GP practice they can now be reminded of appointments and have no excuse to miss one which could have been used by somebody else who needs it.”

The system has been installed in more than 75% of Medway practices and the rest are expected to follow in the next few months. Patients will be asked to give their mobile phone number to their practices next time they visit.

One GP surgery told Medway CCG around 250 appointments are missed each month, the equivalent to the number of appointments one GP has available a week.

Stock pic
Stock pic

Sarah Vaux said some people do ring up and cancel but some simply forget they have booked appointments.

She said: “People will get a text message reminding them they have an appointment and they will have the option of cancelling it there and then. GP staff can then reallocate it to someone who needs it urgently.

“Patients feel frustrated when they ring up and can’t get an appointment on the day. This is one of the measures we’re bringing in to try and reduce that.”

Ms Vaux said the system can also invite ‘at risk’ patients for preventative tests such as cholesterol and blood pressure and invite pregnant women, the elderly and those with long-term health conditions for check-ups.

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