A NEW NHS service aims to transform unplanned patient care - and could eventually see a drastic reduction in A&E waiting times.

Health bosses have launched the Flow Navigation Hub, a central team of nurses and doctors who direct patients to the most appropriate care.

Medics can give specific time slots for minor injury units to cut down on queues, and give advice virtually to keep patients at home.

Since launching in December, the hub has seen around a third of patients referred to the service have been kept at home with advice.

Scott Davidson, deputy medical director for acute services, said: "That's got to be a positive, having people able to be treated in their front room, and not an insignificant impact from what is such a new development.

"This is a change from the traditional way of delivering healthcare but it's the right thing to do and, while it absolutely has a positive impact on our services, it's the right thing to do for patients fundamentally."

Patients who need unplanned care and phone NHS24 - emergency care still goes through 999 - can be referred on to the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Flow Navigation Hub.

Trainee Advanced Nurse Practitioner Samantha Robertson says the caller will come through to the hub's admin hub who puts the patient details on a vetting list.

The hub involves an eight-strong team of trainee advanced nurse practitioners and advanced nurse practitioners who all have emergency medicine backgrounds, and doctors with emergency care and GP backgrounds.

A patient may then be referred to a minor injuries unit (MIU) and receive a call from staff there to give them advice or a time slot to attend in person.

If MIU isn't suitable then a hub staff member will call the patient, identify their needs and refer them on to the most appropriate care.

Samantha said: "We have a nice blend of primary and secondary care colleagues who work together and it's a very collaborative thing.

"Another benefit is the local knowledge that each hub can offer each district.

"We know of services in NHSGGC that NHS24 might not be aware of because it's a national system.

"Currently within NHSGCC we have pathways with the Sandyford and ophthalmology and we are looking to extend that to our medics and surgeons.

"We do try and keep patients at home too and give them empowerment of their own health by giving them the advice they need and prevent unnecessary admissions for them."

Since December, some 4510 referrals have come through the Hub from NHS24.

Of those, 1062 have been referred to an emergency department, 1749 to MIU, another 213 to their GP and 1485 kept at home with advice.

Scott also says that a prior phone or video consultation before heading to A&E can take the anxiety out of the experience for patients, eliminating the fear of the unknown.

Other patients will be able to stay at home and not need to travel anywhere for their care.

Scott added: "You can't underestimate the impact of having a consultation with the team in the hub and not requiring to go anywhere - just being managed within your front room.

"That's got to be a benefit to the patient who doesn't have to come and seek urgent care elsewhere if it can all be managed in the comfort of their own home.

"A virtual appointment and being managed that way is a great outcome without needing to come out to hospital."

While the service has not been prompted by the need to keep patients away from hospital where possible during the pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis has been a catalyst for speeding up the creation of the service.

Samantha said: "We are able to have an overview of A&E departments in the city and find a suitable time for patients to go there so people who do have to go to A&E have less chance of coming in to contact with covid or spreading it.

"Covid has pushed this forward, it has been been a catalyst in urgent care to try and set the Hub up and is probably a slight silver lining."

It is hoped the service, currently based in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, will expand and eventually become 24 hours.

Scott, a consultant in respiratory medicine, said: "It is a fledgling service, we have to be honest about that, but it's one that will evolve with time.

"It's about directing someone from their front room to the right place at the right time rather than perhaps arriving at an ED on two or three buses then being referred on somewhere else.

"It benefits the patient but also lessens that demand on our departments; it will start to flatten that demand on our departments and ease the pressure points.

"It may get very sophisticated and let us say, 'We'd like you to come up at x time,' or 'Go to a clinic tomorrow'.

"But we want to give the public the confidence that we'll tell them the right place for them and empower them in choices about their health."