Health bosses have reassured councillors despite a rapid increase in the number of missed GP appointments in Darlington. 

NHS figures showed that 3,170 appointments were recorded as Did Not Attend (DNA) up to October 2023, up from 2,238 to July. 

The latest data was branded ‘staggering’ and ‘absolutely shocking’ by a councillor on Darlington Borough Council’s health and housing committee and bosses admitted the figures are too high. 

Cllr Neil Johnson told a meeting: “Given Darlington’s population, those figures are flabbergasting. 

“I know in Cockerton they have a policy where it’s two strikes and then some sort of discussion takes place. Is that policy Darlington-wide or are there repeat offenders missing appointments and not receiving any form of reprimand?

“I understand there will be people who have genuine reasons but those figures are enormous and there must be a high proportion of people who are just not turning up.”

The quarterly figures also showed 1,901 appointments were missed up to April 2023. However, health bosses said they require context. 

Dr Sally Stone, who until recently worked at Orchard Court surgery, said the practice did not sanction patients who missed appointments but often sent reminders via text message. 

She added: “You have got to be careful because someone could be mentally ill or occasionally they may have been admitted to hospital, so it’s not as clear cut as people not appearing.”

Emma Joyeux, commissioning lead of Primary Care at NHS North East and North Cumbria, added that patients often seek quicker alternatives. 

“There are some practices that monitor repeat offenders, but some appointments are booked too far in advance and the patient then doesn’t need it or they  turn up to urgent care instead. 

“Practices do tend to be a lot more accommodating and lenient to work with patients to understand why that has happened but ultimately it blocks appointments for somebody who needs it.

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“DNA appointments are roughly around five per cent at the moment and that is too high.”

Councillors also heard how demand is still high for GPs across the borough. There are currently 11 practices for a registered population of more than 112,000. 

Alongside DNA appointments, recruitment and retention difficulties are also affecting the efficiency of local services. Health bosses remain committed to tackling the 8am rush and reduce the number of people struggling to contact their local practice to book an appointment.