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Health Care Appointments/Operations (Postponements)

Volume 556: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2013

9. What recent assessment he has made of the number of health care appointments and operations which are postponed. (136840)

My Department collects data on the number of cancelled elective and urgent operations, which show that these remain very low compared to total activity. We do not collect information on postponed appointments or operations. The NHS must make arrangements locally to minimise postponements and cancellations to avoid the inconvenience to patients.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. This is an issue in my area, with the chief executive of South Tees hospital saying that one factor is excessive use of A and E for non-urgent cases, resulting in pressure on hospital resources. What can the Secretary of State do to make sure that A and E units are used only for genuine accidents and emergencies?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I am concerned that 114 non-urgent operations were cancelled in the South Tees area between November and January, which is significantly higher than this time last year. He is right that we need to think about the model for an A and E service. Nearly 1 million more people go through A and E every year than they did two years ago. We have to recognise that for A and E services to be sustainable, we need to think about people who would better off seeing their GP or going to an urgent care centre.

Is the Minister aware that health care appointments are still bedevilled by the number of people who do not show up, even for appointments with consultants and senior hospital staff? Is it not about time that we looked at a simple system, in which people could pay up front a small amount of money that they get back when they turn up? I am sure that my constituents, as good Yorkshire people, would take their appointments much more seriously if they got their money back when they turned up?

I am interested to hear that suggestion from the Labour Benches, which is not necessarily where I would have expected it to come from. The hon. Gentleman might be surprised at my response, which is that I would be very concerned about such a system. I understand the issue and I think we need to modernise the process of GP and hospital appointments. Technology can play a good role in that, for example by giving people text reminders of appointments that they have booked. My concern is that the system suggested by the hon. Gentleman would put people off going to see their doctor if they needed to. I would not want to do anything that deterred people from using the NHS who most need to do so.