A STAGGERING 50,000 patients have missed hospital appointments in Sunderland in the last 12 months.
The news come as figures released by the Department of Health show 9.1 per cent of patients failed to show up for appointments in the North East last year.
Health chiefs said missed appointments currently cost the taxpayer more than £24million each year across the region.
They have criticised patients who “waste resources” and urged them to do more to keep driving down the number of missed appointments.
A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland said: “This is a significant waste of resources, which not only has a considerable negative impact upon the trust financially, but can also affect how quickly we see and treat people.
“Reasons for non-attendance include patients forgetting their appointment, or feeling better and not contacting the clinic, as well as communications difficulties within the trust.”
The spokesman added that a pilot scheme had been launched to remind patients about appointments.
“Telephone reminder calls are made around one week before the appointment is due to take place and if the patient cannot attend their appointment, they are given the opportunity to cancel or rearrange it for another time,” the spokesman added.
“This information is fed back to our Outpatients Department, which then gives us the opportunity to re-allocate empty slots to other patients.
“If the pilot proves to be successful we will be looking to roll the service out to all relevant specialities as well as investigating alternative methods of communication such as text and email reminders.”
Health minister Simon Burns said: “We are highlighting the number of missed appointments so people can see the impact this is having on the NHS.
“Under the NHS Constitution we all have rights to treatment, such as being seen within 18 weeks.
“Patients often have genuine reasons to miss an appointment, but it can have a big impact on the care we can offer to other patients.
“It is important that the public understand we have responsibilities to, like not wasting precious NHS resources.”
A spokeswoman for NHS North East added: “Latest available regional figures show that missed hospital appointments are costing the NHS in the North East around £24million a year.
“We are not only concerned by the financial side of this, but also how missed appointments affect the ability of doctors, nurses and other staff to work effectively.
“Missed appointments are a big problem because they have a negative effect on how quickly we can see and treat people, how soon patients are diagnosed and how long other people may have to wait for an appointment.
“We’re doing everything we can to improve services but need people to work with us to make things better.”
Health bosses said the number of patients failing to turn up is falling, with 9.6 per cent of 2,829,754 outpatient appointments not attending the previous year.