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What Are NHS Missing Patients And How Can They Be Reached?

Updated: May 8

The National Health Service is the largest non-military public organisation in the world and has an impact on particularly every person in the United Kingdom from the day they are born until the day they die.

However, because of this large catchment, compounded by the complications caused by a worldwide public health crisis, there are potentially as many as 7m “missing patients” who are not factored into existing NHS validation exercises and waiting lists.

These are not missing patients in the same way that persons are declared missing. They are not typically at immediate risk of harm, but they are people who are in need of NHS treatment and who are not currently on an NHS waiting list for whatever reason.

In some cases, they have opted for private care, in other cases, they have simply given up waiting or are unwilling to join waiting lists after being warned that it could be years before they receive the treatment they need. Instead, they have chosen to live with their condition or it is managed in other ways.

It also can in some cases not be down to the patient themselves, with some GPs potentially delaying their specialist referral (the primary way people end up on the NHS waiting list) if they believe or are informed that they may take a while to be seen.

This is a problem, as whilst it can help with headline waiting list figures, it paints an incomplete picture of the overall health of the UK, and many of the people who are missed could end up facing greater health concerns later in life.

This is a particular problem in cases such as cancer screening; if people are not being seen by specialists if they have concerns that could be related to cancer symptoms, that can delay their diagnosis and severely affect their prognosis.

The main solution is community outreach to find these missing patients and make it clear that it is okay to come forward and visit their GP with an issue, and that they are helping the NHS by coming forward earlier with issues rather than letting them get worse.

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