THOUSANDS of pounds are being wasted by patients who fail to keep doctors’ appointments.

Surgeries across south Essex are forced to pay staff to do nothing because people cannot be bothered to cancel bookings.

Health bosses estimate each missed appointment costs a surgery £18 and lengthens patient waiting lists.

A spokesman for NHS South East Essex said surgeries could take action against persistent offenders.

He said: “Practices may send two warning letters or give verbal warnings and then remove the patient from their list if they continue to offend.

“But this will be dealt with by the practice on a case-by-case basis.”

One doctor at a Southend surgery, who did not want to be named, said: “It can cause a real problem. It’s not just the money – it’s the time it wastes.

“Every appointment which goes spare is one which probably could have been offered to others.

“That means they have to book another time, and that means it costs more to staff everything for longer. It’s just a waste.”

Under Department of Health guidelines, statistics on missed appointments are not collected centrally by primary care trusts. However, many surgeries collate their own figures and publish notices in waiting rooms, warning about the cost of unexpected cancellations.

On average, about one appointment per surgery is lost a day, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds county-wide.

Adele Hagon, who attends the Jones Family Practice, in Hockley, urged fellow patients to think about the costs. “It’s frustrating patients aren’t taking the courtesy to pick up the phone and cancel appoinments they cannot make or don’t need,” she said.

“If people took the time to cancel, it could reduce emergencies and the impact on the out-of-hours service, making vital savings that could be used for more worthwhile causes within the NHS.”