Patients who fail to turn up for hospital appointments are costing the NHS in Forth Valley more than £4 million a year.
The cash could have paid for 90 more nurses or 40 more doctors to look after the district’s sick and infirm.
Details of the ‘missing patients’ come at a time when the health authority is reporting a £1.343 million overspend.
In the past 12 months more than one in every ten people referred to a consultant, nurse or an allied health professional, such as physiotherapist, failed to show.
An NHS official has said the high volume of people missing appointments is “concerning”.
It has now led to the health authority trialling a new patient reminder service for certain clinics with people receiving a recorded phone message seven days beforehand.
More than 20,000 people failed to turn up for consultant-led outpatient clinics, while a further 5500 did not show for nurse-led outpatient clinics. Nearly 1000 missed their appointment with allied health professionals.
Tracey Gillies, medical director, said: “I appreciate that sometimes there are genuine reasons for not keeping an appointment but people should let us know. This would give us the chance to reschedule and allow someone else to attend.
“It’s important to remember that a missed appointment may also lead to you being referred back to your GP, potentially delaying your treatment.”
Patients referred to radiology for ultrasounds currently have the worst record with 20 per cent failing to show. In the last month 170 people failed to turn up at Falkirk and Stirling community hospitals.
Sandra Robertson, radiology department manager, said missing appointments created delays for other patients and added to the overall waiting list.
She said: “They also generate additional work for administrative staff who have to rebook patients and there are additional costs associated with sending out further appointment letters.
“Many patients who contact the department to confirm they will attend their scans still fail to turn up.
“It’s important to raise public awareness to help people realise the impact this is having on local health services.”
The average cost per patient of a missed appointment at a doctor-led outpatient clinic is £177, while for a nurse-led clinic it’s £97 and around £63 for treatment by an allied health professional.
In a bid to improve the numbers attending, the trial has been launched for outpatient appointments in gastroenterology, neurology and dermatology.
Patients will receive a recorded message asking them to either confirm they can attend, request a change of appointment or speak to a member of staff.
A text message reminder will also be sent to mobile phones a few days before as an additional reminder, using a local phone number – 01324 566249 – to help avoid confusion with unwanted marketing calls.
If the trial is successful it will be rolled out for all hospital outpatient appointments in Forth Valley.
Emma Hamilton, health records service manager, said: “The introduction of the new reminder system should help reduce the number of people who fail to show up for an appointment because they have either forgotten or can no longer attend.
“Enabling patients to pick a date and appointment time which suits them will also help especially those with specific work commitments, holidays or transport issues.”