Outpatient clinic appointments are often not kept. There has been little study of the reasons for this, but failure to attend may affect future health. Our study was based on the children's outpatient department of a large inner city district general hospital. The parents of 34 children who had failed to keep appointments and of 12 who did attend were interviewed in depth and the appointment systems of the hospital and of a nearby regional referral centre for children were reviewed. At the district general hospital 23% of first appointments and 35% of subsequent appointments were not kept. We found that parents usually made a conscious decision about attending, balancing the perceived advantages and disadvantages of doing so. Their assessment of the severity of the child's illness was crucial in this. Twenty one of the 34 children who had not attended were assessed at the time of interview as still needing to attend. Of these, 16 subsequently kept an appointment and 11 underwent further investigation or treatment. We conclude that children who are not brought for outpatient appointments may be at risk of avoidable ill health and that ways of either ensuring attendance at outpatient clinics or providing alternative means of health supervision are needed.
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