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Stop meddling with NHS DNA



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Another year, another tub-thump about DNAs. Every story on this subject, and Gawd knows we’ve had a few, offers up a familiar litany of finger-wagging at naughty DNA’ing punters topped off with a tedious round of number crunching to ram home the point.

As in this 2019 version, in which patients must play their part in an overstretched NHS to avoid wasting precious resources, yada yada.

And in which the costs of DNAs are morphed into shocking soundbites, specifically equating to 224,640 cataract operations, 216,000 courses of Alzheimer’s treatments or 58,320 hip replacements, the relevance of this particular triad presumably being that this money would ensure patients could actually read the appointment date in their diary, remember to go and be mobile enough to get there.

All of which ignores a couple of inconvenient truths.

Ghost appointments, like ghost patients, are factored into the system, and eliminating them would destroy our essential buffer zone

First, that the people at whom these exhortations to stop wasting appointments are aimed are the very ones least likely to respond, given that they tend to represent a cohort known for calling out of hours, attending A&E and generally not giving a toss about what they cost the NHS.

Second, that eliminating DNAs would be a great way of ensuring that the NHS finally grinds to a halt. Ghost appointments, like ghost patients, are factored into the system, and eliminating them would destroy the essential buffer zone we all rely on to catch our breath, read some mail, evacuate our bowels, etc.

So let’s stop this annual hand-wringing, sermonising nonsense, shall we? DNAs are part of the NHS’s DNA, and meddling with that would be playing God with the appointment system. And only receptionists are allowed to do that.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex