A CONTROVERSIAL scheme which sees patients wanting to see a doctor given the option of discussing their medical needs with admin staff first, has been introduced in a borough.

The scheme will see patients calling for a GP appointment having the chance to talk through their health complaint with a newly-appointed ‘care navigator’ before being given an appointment with a doctor.

Care Navigation has been trialled in Hyndburn and has been rolled out across the rest of East Lancashire.

GP practices in Blackburn with Darwen have now introduced the scheme, which will see care navigators, most commonly receptionists and admin staff, who have been given specialist training, direct patients to the right health professional.

Patients looking to see their GP could instead be signposted to a dentist, optician, pharmacist, nurse or talking therapies.

But the Care Navigation scheme has attracted criticism from patients and health campaigners concerned at the prospect of potentially sharing their personal details with GP receptionists and admin staff.

East Lancashire’s patients’ champion Russ McLean said patients had contacted him who were worried about ‘receptionists’ missing something.

He said: “I’d like to remind patients they’re under no obligation to disclose personal information and that it's optional.

“I don’t agree with the method but I agree with the principle of the scheme in redirecting appointments to the right health professional and freeing up GP appointments.

“You do get people going to the GP with coughs and colds and I think it’s a case of educating people rather than this scheme.

“Patients have contacted me extremely worried about receptionists missing something and not spotting red flags.

“My worry would be that lives could then potentially be at risk.

“I also think elderly people in particular would not be comfortable disclosing personal details to a receptionist.”

But Dr Mohammed Umer, a GP at Darwen Healthcare, said the Care Navigation scheme is about giving patients choice.

He said: “Across Blackburn with Darwen we are working hard to make sure that when people need to see a GP, they have access to one quickly and in a way that suits them, be that in person or over the phone.

“We know that sometimes though the GP isn’t really the best person to see and that patients could be seen and treated quicker by a nurse or a pharmacist for example," Dr Umer said.

“In some cases, the GP practice might not even be the right place at all for the query.

“That’s where care navigation comes in.

“It’s about giving patients choice and supporting and guiding them with the right information about other health care professionals who have the expertise to deal with a problem, often quicker and without the need to see the GP each time.”

Blackburn with Darwen CCG bosses said Care Navigation will support practices and patients to make the best use of valuable NHS resources.

The CCG said the scheme is a ‘tried and tested model of care’ that improves access to primary care services for patients and reduces GP pressures all in one.

Five services will initially be available for care navigators to signpost to but as care navigation develops, more services will be introduced.

These services are minor eye treatment service, health and wellbeing, Age UK, community pharmacy and dental.