The cost of health

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to charge patients for NHS appointments.  Had the proposal been successful it would have led to the RCN backing the idea of a £10 charge for health appointments, but in the end 91% of delegates at the RCN conference voted against.

Those in favour of the proposal said that making a charge would not only raise much needed revenue for the NHS it would also emphasis the value of NHS appointments.  In other words, charging for appointments would help people to appreciate the value and cost of NHS appointments and in the process make people think a little more about the way in which they use NHS resources This would in turn, the proponents argued, result in the twin benefits of reducing unnecessary appointments and reducing no-shows; both of which waste considerable NHS resources as well as potentially delaying urgent treatments. After all, it helps no-one if health practitioners are sitting idly by waiting in vain for someone to turn up. That time would far better be used in helping another patient.

Commenting on the vote a spokesperson for the Department of Health said “We are absolutely clear that the NHS should be free at the point of use, and we will not charge for GP appointments.”  But with no-shows a constant drain on both NHS and private health care services, practices are increasingly turning towards the use of appointment reminders as a means of encouraging people to attend booked appointments or to cancel them in good time.

Sent by phone, SMS text or e-mail, appointment reminders not only jog patients’ memories, they also act as a spur for patients to get in touch and cancel appointments if they are unable to attend.  This in turn enables health practices to re-book appointment slots.

For health practices such as osteopaths or physiotherapists which do charge for appointments, not only do no-shows waste valuable treatment time, they also act as a cost drain on the practice.  Whilst the option of sending out appointment reminders is one option, another great way to cut down on no-shows is to take a secure card pre-authorisation at the time the appointment is booked.  Having a card pre-authorised tends to sharpen the mind when it comes to remembering to attend appointments. Pre-authorising a card doesn’t prevent the patient from paying by other means when they attend the appointment but should the patient not attend the health practice can charge a pre-agreed sum to the card.  Pre-authorised card booking can be taken either over the phone or when an appointment is booked online.

With a report from the BBC revealing that the NHS may be facing a funding gap of some £2billion in the next year, we suspect that the debate about the way in which health care is funded and managed will rumble on for some time.  Adopting systems such as appointment reminders which help to ensure patient care is delivered when it is required whilst at the same time maximising resources can only be a positive move.