Last week the BBC reported that the Welsh Conservative party would introduce a £10 fine for patients who frequently miss NHS hospital appointments, should they win power at next year’s assembly election.
This view has been echoed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who believes that charging patients who miss NHS appointments will ensure people take greater responsibility for the use of precious resources, although he admits that imposing such charges would be difficult to implement.
Missed appointment have always been a huge issue for the NHS as figures show that since 2012/13 missed hospital appointments have cost more than £180 million, the BBC reports.
With 30% to 50% of people not using their medicines as intended, medication prescribed but not used is another source of waste to the NHS. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society estimates there is around £150 million of avoidable medicines waste.
In a bid to address this, the government is planning for packets of prescription medication over £20 to display how much their contents have cost taxpayers.
As the NHS is under such financial pressure, it is time for the general public to have a better understanding of how money is spent in the NHS and more importantly for them to understand that they have a role to play to ensure the system is sustainable.
So what can the government do to get the message across to patients that as much as they need the NHS, the NHS needs them too!
Although the NHS is free at the point of use, it is funded by taxpayers. The government needs to make it clearer to the general public that any money wasted, either through missed appointments or unused medicines, costs patients more either through higher taxes or reduced services.
Over the years there have been various public awareness campaigns, mainly to direct patients to use the right service. A good example is NHS England’s ‘Feeling under the weather?’ campaign, which aimed to reduce pressure on the NHS urgent and emergency care system during the winter of 2014/15. Its focus was to influence changes in public behaviour to help reduce the number of elderly and frail people requiring emergency admissions through urgent and emergency care services, particularly A&E departments, with illnesses that could have been effectively managed elsewhere.
Although the campaign had a clear call to action, it had limited visibility being mainly promoted via posters and social media.
If the government wants to make a real impact, it will need to engage with the general public on channels such as TV and radio and make the message quite clear about the need to become a responsible user of the healthcare system.
Patient choice and empowerment are the new buzzwords and are most welcome. However it is important to ensure that they are not linked to a feeling of entitlement.
Because otherwise the alternative won’t be to charge those that miss their hospital or GP appointments, but to charge everybody to see their doctor in the first instance.