Mental health patients who miss two or more GP appointments within the space of a year are eight times more likely to die in the subsequent 18 months than those who miss none.
The findings come from a study from the University of Glasgow which looked at 274,547 long-term mental health patients within surgeries across Scotland.
Of those who missed appointments, 32.1% had problems with alcohol or drug addiction.
And of those who died in the months following missed appointments, the average age of death was 49.
Lead author Ross McQueenie said: “Many people regard patients as being lazy or lethargic if they miss appointments. We think this is generally not the case.
“People aren’t making health appointments for fun. And if they miss an appointment, then their health needs aren’t being met.”
A previous study from the same university found that practices in poorer areas often have measures in place to cope with missed appointments more effectively, such as offering on-the-day appointments and being understanding when scheduled appointments are missed.
However, patients in more affluent areas often feel excluded and overlooked by their practices, making it harder for them to attend following a missed appointment.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, said: “People miss appointments for a range of reasons – but this study highlights why it’s more important to show compassion to people who fail to attend, rather than punishing them.”