NHS England is urging patients to cancel appointments rather than just not show up, after news has emerged that more than 15 million general practice appointments are being wasted each year because patients do not turn up and fail to warn surgeries in advance.

Of the 307 million sessions scheduled with GPs, nurses, therapists and other practice staff every year, one in twenty (5%) are missed without enough notice to invite other patients.

The missed appointments add up to 15.4 million missed slots, of which around 7.2 million are with family doctors, with each appointment costing an average of £30.

At this price, the total cost to the NHS is at more than £216 million each year, the equivalent to the annual salary of 2,325 full time GPs, 224,640 cataract operations or 216,000 drug treatment courses for Alzheimer’s.

Dr Nikki Kanani, acting director of Primary Care for NHS England, said: “We know that timely access to general practice appointments are a priority for the public which is why we are growing the workforce and offering evening and weekend appointments.

“The NHS long term plan will set out how we will build on this progress but patients can do their part by letting the NHS know if they can’t make their slot – freeing up doctors, nurses and other professionals to see those who do need care and attention.

“This is particularly important as we go in to winter. Our message is clear: if you cannot make it to your appointment or no longer need a consultation, please let your GP practice know in advance so the appointment can be filled by another patient.”

To help try and counteract the high numbers of missed appointments, evening and weekend access to GP services has been available across the country since December, meaning there will be an estimated nine million extra appointments each year.