More than 900 people missed appointments every day at West Midlands hospitals – costing the cash-strapped NHS an estimated £35 million.
There were 350,000 instances of patients failing to turn up to see doctors in a year, with many not bothering to inform the health service.
Now a city MP has said that an inquiry should be set up into tackling the problem of patients who persistently fail to show – including the possibility of fines.
It is estimated that each patient who doesn’t turn up costs health chiefs around £100.
Hospital officials told the Post that the problem was “serious” as they attempt to make savings and also tackle waiting lists.
And they warned that as well as preventing someone else receiving treatment more quickly, people who don’t turn up are also potentially putting themselves at risk.
Birmingham’s hospitals were hit by more than 100,000 missed first outpatient appointments, and almost 250,000 subsequent meetings were also missed during 2012/13.
Patients also failed to turn up to 5,672 arranged elective inpatient admissions.
The worst hit was the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, which includes Heartlands, Sutton Coldfield and Solihull hospitals, with 82,176 missed appointments.
A spokesman said: “This is a very serious issue as it could mean that patients are not getting the vital care they need. We would actively encourage anyone who has an appointment to let us know if they cannot make it so that we can re-book them.
“We are working with our governors and patient groups to understand the reasons why patients do not attend their appointments and to see how we can improve communication to ensure that any treatment is provided as soon as possible.
“We are a large trust and see and treat thousands of patients each year and are keen to learn how we can improve the service to make it easier for patients to attend their appointments.”
University Hospitals Birmingham, which runs the Queen Elizabeth super-hospital, saw a total of 71,374 patients fail to show (‘did not arrive’, or DNA).
A spokesman said: “The trust sees on average 40,000 patients per month (480,000 per annum) and has introduced a number of initiatives to combat DNAs.
“These include texting outpatients who have supplied their mobile telephone number (apart from those attending HIV clinics) and sending reminder letters in advance.
“This pro-active approach has resulted in a significant reduction in DNAs over the past five years from 9-10 per cent to around five per cent of all appointments.
“The cost of missed appointments varies greatly depending on the speciality but an average of £100 per appointment gives a general idea as to the financial impact on the Trust.
“The trust continues to work with its patients to identify the most effective way of avoiding missed appointments and is aiming to roll out email alerts for patients within the next 12 months. Patients are reminded that missing appointments not only wastes resource but can impact negatively on their treatment. Other patients who could be seen by our doctors and nurses within the missed time slot also miss out.”
The news emerged as the NHS is desperately trying to save cash – £20 billion in efficiency savings by 2015.
Bosses believe that tackling the epidemic of people failing to attend appointments would be one way of saving money.
The money is wasted because health staff are available to treat the patient who doesn’t arrive, in some cases a further appointment has to be rearranged, costing more valuable staff time.
But the NHS has also been accused of contributing to the problem by frequently cancelling appointments and then re-booking them, leaving patients confused.
A series of measures are being attempted in a bid to cut down on the issue – including texting reminders or using Skype to allow people to see doctors from their own homes.
Perry Barr Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said: “The trust has got to be more effective at sending out the notices and making sure that people are being sent reminders.
“We have got to look at the issue of persistent offenders. Fines are certainly a possibility, but we’ve also got to consider if the kind of people regularly not turning up are the type who would be able to afford to pay.
“Patients are also putting their own health at risk by not turning up to these appointments – as well as costing the NHS money.”