Why British Summer Time has an unexpected impact on the NHS

Sarah Knapton
As the clocks go forward more people miss hospital appointments, a new report suggests  - Jeff Pachoud Getty Images 

When the clocks go forward next weekend, it will bring not only lighter evenings, but a general sense of wellbeing and fewer accidents on the roads.

Yet researchers have discovered British Summer Time is having an unexpectedly negative and costly impact for the NHS.

Psychologists at Lancaster and York Universities have found that when the clocks go forward more people miss their hospital appointments.

In fact, patients are five per cent more likely to fail to turn up than on a usual week. Although the figure may seem small, there are around 150,000 missed NHS appointments each week, so even a small increase could see an extra 1,000 missed appointments.

Lead author Dr David Ellis said: “We have been doing a lot of research looking at what makes people miss appointments. We’ve looked a the effects of different days of the week, or different socioeconomic groups and now we have found a new reason.

“We found more people missed their appointments after the clocks moved forward in spring.

“It could be that people are simply mixing up times and turning up too late. Or it could actually be the extra sleepiness makes it more difficult to attend appointments.

“Missed appointments represent a significant financial issue for healthcare systems and have an adverse impact on patient care. It may help to schedule fewer appointments in the week after the clocks go forward.”

Each hospital outpatient appointment costs £120 so missed sessions represent a significant financial issue for the NHS and have a negative impact on patient care. In the last financial year, there were eight million missed appointments.

The team analysed over two million appointments in Scotland from 2005 to 2010 before, during and after the spring and autumn clock changes. This year the clocks go forward on Sunday March 25th.

The team also found that there is a slight decrease in missed appointments when the clocks go back during the autumn, suggesting that hundreds more people turned up to hospital than would have done in an ordinary week.

Dr Rob Jenkins said: “It may be the case that people arrive early for appointments after the autumn clock change and late after the clocks go forward in spring.”

The effect was found to wear off after a week but researchers warn that even small reductions in missed appointments could have a large impact on reducing these costs along with the health risks to patients.

“Small changes in non-attendance for medical appointments could have large implications across the health service,” the authors conclude. “For example an absolute reduction of ‘did not attend’ rate of just 1.2 per cent could save £60 million per year.”

Missed appointments cost the NHS million every year  Credit: Peter Byrne PA

They suggest that people with hospital appointments in the week following the Spring clock change should set themselves extra reminders to make sure they attend.

Dr Kirk Luther, of Lancaster University, said: “Potential solutions include sending additional reminders to patients as the spring clock change approaches, or scheduling more appointments in the week prior to the spring clock change.”

Previous studies have found that the move to British Summer Time increases so-called cyberloafing when people spend work time checking personal emails or browse websites unrelated to work, which appeared to be linked to sleep deprivation.

Cognition and health also improve after the spring clock change.

The research was published in the journal Chronobiology International.