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Number unable to get a hospital appointment after GP referral up 50% in two years

The number of patients unable to get a hospital appointment after being referred by their GP is up more than 50% in two years amid the record NHS backlog, official data show.

NHS Digital figures show no appointments were immediately available for 2.3 million referrals made in the first six months of this year – up 51% on the same period in 2020.

Appointment slot issues occur when a patient is referred by their GP through the NHS e-Referral Service but no appointment is available to book. 

The referral is then forwarded or deferred to a patient’s chosen provider, but if an appointment is not made within 180 days it will automatically be removed from the system, according to NHS Digital.

Patient safety campaigners have said the scale of the problem must be “urgently investigated” by NHS England to ensure the safety of patients is not being compromised while they wait for appointments.

Helen Hughes, the chief executive of the Patient Safety Learning charity, said: “We have significant concerns about the safety of patients who are facing increasingly long waits for treatment, particularly those on high priority cancer pathways and urgent referrals.”

She said patients needed to be assured that they will “not be lost in a failing, complex system”, adding: “We believe that NHS England needs to urgently investigate, quantify the scale of the problem and take action if we are to prevent these capacity and system issues resulting in avoidable harm for patients.”

Some GPs told Patient Safety Learning they had experienced difficulties getting referrals accepted. One GP, based in the North East, said: “There is an ever-creeping transfer of management of complex conditions from secondary to primary care, without adequate training or resources to manage this safely.”

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Source: The Telegraph, 7 August 2022

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