COVID 'created challenges for everyone and the NHS is no different' says University Hospitals Dorset chief, as figures show a drop in appointments caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS Digital data shows 625,415 outpatient appointments were booked at University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust in the year to March – a 20 per cent drop from the previous year, when 784,805 were scheduled.

This was in line with the picture across England, where appointments fell by 18 per cent to 101.9 million.

Mark Mould, UHD’s chief operating officer, said: “The pandemic has created challenges for everyone and the NHS is no different.

“University Hospitals Dorset is working hard to reduce waiting times as soon as possible. A huge part of our work centres about creating a new outpatients department in Beales in Poole Dolphin Centre and we’re incredibly excited to see this currently taking shape.

“Our patients and the public can help as well. We are encouraging patients to let us know as soon as possible if they are unable to attend their appointments. It’s difficult for us to fill a slot if we are told a patient can’t make an appointment on the day itself so the earlier we have this information the higher the chance that we can fill the slot, thus reducing the wait times. If patients don’t turn up to their appointments it means the waiting lists grow further and reducing the ‘did not attend’ figures would have a positive impact on the wait times.”

Around 75 per cent of appointments booked at University Hospitals Dorset Trust went ahead, but 16 per cent were cancelled by the trust.

The remainder were either not attended or cancelled by the patient.

Across England, 12.6 million appointments were cancelled by hospitals in 2020-21 – 16% more than the year before, and equating to 12% of all booked slots.

The Government said it had provided "record" investment to the NHS for frontline care and to increase efficiencies.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “The pandemic has put enormous pressures on the NHS, but we are committed to ensuring people get the treatment they need.

“We have provided record investment to tackle the backlog, including £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years, which will deliver an extra 9 million checks, scans, and operations for patients across the country.”

Work is currently underway to transform the second floor of Beales in the Dolphin Centre, Poole, into an outpatients assessment clinic to help bring down waiting times across the region.