Identifying barriers to outpatient appointment attendance in patient groups at risk of inequity: a mixed methods study in a London NHS trust

Beatrice Sung, Fiona O’Driscoll, Alice Gregory, Kate Grailey, Hannah Franklin, Sharon Poon, Anna Lawrence-Jones, Leila Shepherd, Clare McCrudden, Bob Klaber, Chris Pavlakis, Ara Darzi, Sarah Huf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: There is significant health inequity in the United Kingdom (U.K.), with different populations facing challenges accessing health services, which can impact health outcomes. At one London National Health Service (NHS) Trust, data showed that patients from deprived areas and minority ethnic groups had a higher likelihood of missing their first outpatient appointment. This study’s objectives were to understand barriers to specific patient populations attending first outpatient appointments, explore systemic factors and assess appointment awareness. Methods: Five high-volume specialties identified as having inequitable access based on ethnicity and deprivation were selected as the study setting. Mixed methods were employed to understand barriers to outpatient attendance, including qualitative semi-structured interviews with patients and staff, observations of staff workflows and interrogation of quantitative data on appointment communication. To identify barriers, semi-structured interviews were conducted with patients who missed their appointment and were from a minority ethnic group or deprived area. Staff interviews and observations were carried out to further understand attendance barriers. Patient interview data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis to create a thematic framework and triangulated with staff data. Subthemes were mapped onto a behavioural science framework highlighting behaviours that could be targeted. Quantitative data from patient interviews were analysed to assess appointment awareness and communication. Results: Twenty-six patients and 11 staff were interviewed, with four staff observed. Seven themes were identified as barriers – communication factors, communication methods, healthcare system, system errors, transport, appointment, and personal factors. Knowledge about appointments was an important identified behaviour, supported by eight out of 26 patients answering that they were unaware of their missed appointment. Environmental context and resources were other strongly represented behavioural factors, highlighting systemic barriers that prevent attendance. Conclusion: This study showed the barriers preventing patients from minority ethnic groups or living in deprived areas from attending their outpatient appointment. These barriers included communication factors, communication methods, healthcare the system, system errors, transport, appointment, and personal factors. Healthcare services should acknowledge this and work with public members from these communities to co-design solutions supporting attendance. Our work provides a basis for future intervention design, informed by behavioural science and community involvement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number554
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes

Data Availability Statement

The discussion guides used in this study are provided as supplementary
information files. The data generated or analysed during this study are
available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


  • Appointment
  • Behavioural science
  • Deprivation
  • Design
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Health inequality
  • Health inequity
  • Outpatient
  • Public involvement
  • Underserved groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy

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