§ Mr. Coaker
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps the Government are taking to reduce the number of first appointments not attended by patients at hospital outpatient departments; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Ms Stuart
There are a number of examples of good practice already introduced by National Health Service trusts to reduce the number of patients that fail to turn up for appointments. These include issuing reminder letters and installing dedicated 24 hour answerphones so that patients can call to cancel their appointments at a time that suits them.
The recent report "Variations in NHS Outpatient Performance" recommends the introduction of partial booking systems as a step towards total booking systems. In a partial booking system, patients are informed upon receipt of the general practitioner's referral letter of the waiting time for that particular clinic, and the patient is asked to telephone the hospital a few weeks before that time to arrange a convenient date. Evidence suggests that this process reduces the number of occasions where patients fail to attend appointments.
The introduction of booking systems—so that patients can pre-book an appointment/admission date that is convenient to them—is a key part of the modernisation agenda. 24 pilots began to introduce these systems in September 1998. Most of these booked admissions pilots have significantly reduced the "Did Not Attend" (DNA) rates, with some eliminating them altogether. In September 1999, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a further 60 pilots to take forward this part of the modernisation agenda, increasing the coverage to around 2 million patients.