A CONTROVERSIAL scheme where patients seeking a GP appointment discuss their medical needs with a receptionist is being extended county-wide, after being piloted in East Lancashire.

Health bosses believe the system, called Care Navigation, saves doctors’ time and provides better treatment.

The scheme involves patients asking for a GP appointment talking through their symptoms with specially-trained administrative staff who then decide whether to book them a GP appointment or refer them to another NHS professional such as a pharmacist or optician.

The scheme was trialled over the last two years, first by the East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group (which covers Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Ribble Valley, and Rossendale boroughs) and then its Blackburn with Darwen equivalent.

After NHS bosses deemed it a success, it will be rolled out across Lancashire and South Cumbria.

Regional medical director Dr Kieran Murphy said the new system helped patients find the right medical professional first time round and made it easier for those who needed one to see their GP.

East Lancashire patients’ champion Russ McLean said: “I would like to see the evidence for this. I am hearing that patients do not like this system.

“I fear it is more about saving money and GPs' time than improving patient care.”

Dr Murphy said “We know that sometimes patients find navigating health services difficult and in some cases another health or care professional might be better suited to look after them.

“Sometimes patients could be seen and treated quicker by a nurse, dentist or a pharmacist.

“The primary goal of care navigation is to ensure that patients get the right care at the right time in the right place with the right treatment or advice.”

Burnley GP Dr David White said: "Care navigation is making a positive impact at our practice and helping us meet ever-rising demands. This has been achieved with an increasing acceptance amongst our patients.”

In Blackburn with Darwen, after six months, an audit shows that 500, three per cent, of the patients who rang 23 GP practices for an appointment were identified as benefitting from being signposted to services.

In January across East Lancashire CCG's 53 GP practices, approximately 350 patients were navigated to other appropriate services.

The number of alternative services to which patients can be signposted under the system is to be widened.