OKEHAMPTON Medical Centre has set a new target to reduce the number of appointments missed to fewer than 50 a week.

The Okehampton Patient Participation Group (PPG) is also asking for patients’ own ideas on how to reduce the total of ‘no shows’ without notice.

An average of 65 appointments were missed each week last year without the practice being informed, meaning appointments could not be reallocated to other patients. The latest figures for March reveal the number is now down to 56 missed appointments, but chair of the PPG Jan Goffey said there was still work to be done.

‘The total amount of appointments missed in March was 223,’ said Jan. ‘That means 85 doctor appointments and 138 nurse appointments which could have been available to other patients if people had just given the practice notice.’

Patients could easily cancel an appointment by responding to text message reminders sent by the medical centre, she said.

‘If you know you are not going to be able to make it you can just text cancel in reply to that message from the surgery,’ she said. ‘You don’t need to do anything more than that.

‘The key message is if you need to cancel an appointment please cancel it.’

The medical centre has previously been criticised for the time it takes to get through to a receptionist on the phone.

However Okehampton Medical Centre practice manager Kiran Bakhshi said the practice was addressing this by drafting in more staff to answer the phone in the mornings. ‘We have more than doubled the number of calls that we can answer in the mornings,’ she said.

She added that patients could now cancel and rebook their appointments on the phone as well as online without having to speak to a receptionist.

‘We now have a 24-hour voice system add on to the phone system that is live into the system so patients can check appointments, cancel appointments and rebook them,’ she said. ‘We are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to let us know.’

She added: ‘We wanted to reduce the number of missed appointments by 20 per cent and we have managed to do that. To reduce them further we think we need to drill down further into why people are missing appointments.’

They were looking into whether people were missing appointments for check ups for ongoing health conditions such as asthma, she said.

‘These are ones where if people are feeling better at a particular time they might feel they don’t need to come in,’ she said. ‘It is about trying to get them to understand the importance of these check ups.

‘We are also using these missed appointments to call the patient. If somebody has not turned up we will call and see why they have not turned up. It’s using the missed appointments to reduce them further.’

She said that missed appointments had a knock-on effect on other patients.

‘If people weren’t missing their appointments without cancelling then we would have more appointments to offer other patients,’ she said. ‘We need people to understand that by not letting us know they cannot make an appointment we can’t offer it to somebody else.’

Patient suggestions on reducing the number of missed appointments can be emailed to via email [email protected]