MEMBERS of the public are being urged to cancel any medical appointments they know they won't be able to attend, in order to allow others to make use of them.

Clwyd South MS Ken Skates spoke out last week after learning that at least 13,000 slots were missed at surgeries across his constituency between April 2023 and March this year.

But the problem isn't limited to Clwyd South - it is happening right across North Wales and the consequences are manifold.

Wrexham GP Peter Saul said: "Every day we have wasted slots.

"It has always been an issue.

"We have more ways of booking appointments now; not just phoning up the reception, but lots of practices have online booking systems.

"Because you're not having that human contact, it's almost easier to forget or disregard an online booking.

"Maybe it makes it psychologically easier not to attend if it was booked that way.

"I think the idea of the doctor's time being wasted is perhaps overstated.

"When someone doesn't turn up, we're not just sitting there, reading the news or thinking about who won the football.

"There are other things we generally try and spend our time doing which are important such as going through results and checking reports.

"But for people who can't get an appointment to see us, it does have an impact.

"We get calls every day from people who want appointments, so even if it's 30 minutes beforehand that you call in and say sorry, I can't make it - often we can get someone for that slot.

"My message to patients isn't so much that you're wasting doctors' time - it's that you're preventing a person who might really need to see a doctor that day from having that opportunity."

Geoff Ryall-Harvey, regional director for North Wales Llais (the independent body dedicated to representing the interests of the people of Wales), said: "There are two sides to this, like there are with everything.

"The first thing most people will say is that you're lucky if you can get an appointment at all.

"They will talk about the difficulty of having to call up at eight and having a ten minute window to book an appointment.

"I think it does all revolve around this issue of being able to get an appointment; it was bad pre-pandemic and it's worse now.

"If people are lucky enough to get appointments, they should do whatever they can to avoid cancelling them.

"But if they have to do so, cancel good and early so someone else can have that appointment.

"It makes a substantial difference to the health service, which is a scarce resource that we need to make the best of.

"This is a problem right across North Wales, and it's not just in GP surgeries - it's hospital outpatients too.

"We have even heard from some people that they will book an appointment in a month's time, not really needing it but thinking 'something might happen then'.

"Because it's so difficult to get an appointment, they book one 'just in case' and then cancel if it's not needed - or maybe they don't cancel it.

"Very few people would admit to doing that, but when we speak to people, that is something we hear."

Mr Ryall-Harvey suggested a 'cancellation line' could be a useful tool for GP surgeries in order to make the process easier for patients.

And he believes the congestion in surgeries' booking systems could be alleviated somewhat by better use of online video consultations, where the symptoms and situation allow.

"We have this technology now," he said.

"It's worth thinking about."

Speaking after Mr Skates' statement last week, Ffion Johnstone, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's lead for primary care, said: “Missing an appointment wastes the time of hard-working GP surgery staff and deprives other patients of an opportunity to be seen, leading to longer waiting times.

“At a time when resources are being stretched to meet record levels of demand in primary care, the significant number of missed appointments is something that our health service simply cannot afford. 

"We urge patients to make every effort to attend their planned appointment and to let their GP surgery know if this is no longer possible."