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Hospital patients’ appointments cancelled 10 times in a row

Cancellations have risen by 14% in three years

Some hospital patients are having their appointments cancelled more than 10 times in a row, an investigation reveals.

The Telegraph found soaring numbers of patients face repeated cancellations and, in some cases, notice is only given the night before via letters dispatched by taxi. 

Five patients who experienced more than 10 cancellations in a row had been left waiting for care since at least 2014, the figures show. 

Across the country, the number of people who had at least five cancellations in a row has more than tripled in three years from 3,961 to 13,540. They included 185 patients who had seen the same appointment cancelled at least 10 times – almost three times more than in 2016, when 67 cases were recorded.  

The figures cover patients sent by their GP to see a hospital specialist, as well as those due to have follow-up checks, or those referred on to other hospital departments for further investigations or treatment.  

Patients said they had been left to wait months for appointments because staff were unable to read illegible referrals. Others said hospital trusts had used taxis to send letters. 

In total, 79 NHS hospital trusts – around half of those in England – were able to provide data about cancellations. Overall, the number of appointments cancelled by the 79 trusts has risen by 14% in three years. 

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said that for some patients, the most difficult and aggravating aspect of their experience is not the care they receive but the failures and bungles of NHS administration.

“Cancelled appointments for treatment, or delays in getting appointments at all, can add massively to the distress of being unwell,” she warned.

Lillie Wenzel, fellow at The King’s Fund, said waiting for a diagnosis or treatment is stressful enough without the added anxiety caused by repeatedly cancelled appointments.

“The NHS is under significant pressure and there are numerous reasons why an appointment might be cancelled. Managing this requires effective administrative processes and clear communication with patients, but in reality, and despite the efforts of many NHS staff, patients’ experience of care is often hampered by poor administration,” she added.

An NHS spokesperson said the NHS Long Term Plan sets out how the health service will deliver an increasing amount of routine care in a way that’s more convenient for patients, and reduces pressure on hospital teams.