Care navigators help support patients get to the right service faster

GP practices across Cheshire and Merseyside are rolling out a new scheme to help support and guide patients to access the most appropriate service for their need.

This scheme is often called care navigation, but the role is sometimes also known as a patient advisor or care coordinator.   General practice receptionists and admin staff have been given specialist training to help them direct patients to the right health professional first time.

Dr Kieran Murphy, NHS England (Cheshire and Merseyside) Medical Director said “Across Cheshire and Merseyside 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 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 for example. That’s where care navigation comes in.”

The scheme is designed to help give patients choice, offering them support and guiding them to the right information about other health care professionals who have the expertise to deal with a range of health and care illnesses and injuries.

Care navigation allows front line staff to provide patients with more information about local health and wellbeing services, both within and outside of primary care, in a safe, effective way. It means that patients will find it easier to get a GP appointment when they need one.

When a patient contacts the practice, the care navigator will ask for a brief outline of the problem, this isn’t about being intrusive, it is aimed to allow the care navigator to identify the patient’s need and provide information about services in the practice, other NHS providers and the wider care and support sector. Where appropriate, they will direct the patient to these services.

Dr Murphy added “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.”

If a patient presents with symptoms that would be better dealt with by another service such as a pharmacist or optician, they can be confidently offered these choices, allowing them to go straight to the service which best meets their health and wellbeing needs. Care navigation will support practices and patients to make the best use of valuable NHS resources.

Case study

The health and social care system in Wirral is one of the areas who have benefitted from rolling out care navigation in the area through their GP federations.  Primary Care Wirral (GP Federation) have trained 156 general practice staff, receptionists and administrators across its practices.

Wirral member general practices have received accredited, specialist targeted training in care navigation. This training has been provided in collaboration with Healthwatch Wirral. This training enhances skills in directing patients to the most appropriate source of support at the point of contact.

Healthwatch Wirral has designed a directory of services that is used by care navigators and encompasses national as well as local services. This online directory is maintained by Healthwatch Wirral on an ongoing basis, ensuring that it is current.

The primary care system in Wirral has seen numerous benefits both for GP practices and for patients of the care navigation programme.

For practices, fewer resources are being used inappropriately.  By utilising care navigation, patients are directed to the appropriate support when they first contact the practice. This means many more patients who need to be seen by a GP are able to access appointments more quickly, whilst those who would have previously been seen by a GP, but then redirected, are benefiting from an improved and more efficient patient journey.

Receptionists and administrators that have been trained as part of the care navigation training programme report that they have an increased sense of job satisfaction in being able to directly affect patient and carer care and support, now that they have been trained with these additional skills.

The team at Primary Care Wirral have also been mindful of ensuring that their patient community has been engaged and informed regarding the care navigation programme and have produced a video in partnership with and partly funded by Healthwatch Wirral CIC to show patients exactly what the care navigation team does:

The Warren’s Medical Centre is one of the individual practices seeing great benefits following implementation of care navigation.  It has helped them ensure that their patients get to see the correct clinician, first time.

They said, “Over the years general practice has developed from the building where you saw only your family doctor into a more complex set up that includes, practice nurses – some who can now prescribe – health care assistants and, most recently, advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs).

“When they contact us, the challenge has been to direct the patient to the best individual to deal with their problems. So if a dressing is needed, a GP wouldn’t be the best person to see.  If a blood pressure needs checking then the health care assistant is the person.

While the reception staff got their training we agreed with our Patient Participation Group the best way to implement the scheme. We decided on a long lead in time with plenty of advanced warning and explanation.

The roll-out of care navigation has gone very smoothly and right across the board staff feedback has been positive. The GPs think it is great, as they get to know ahead of time why the next patient is coming in and better prepare in advance for the consultation.  The result has been to free up more doctor’s appointments and brought down some of the waiting times – so good news all round.”