Government plans for a nationwide shared-service communications model for NHS primary care risks wiping out local expertise and increasing burdens on councils, the Department of Health has been warned.

Blackburn with Darwen council has written to NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson expressing concerns that alternative models are being given short shrift.

Tom Stannard, director of policy and communications at the authority, said that while national level public relations models would clearly save money, they would not be as effective.

“In all probability, the new system would increase the cost for local authorities who will step in when local issues are boiling over but won’t be subsidised for this,” he said.

“This is why at least allowing GPs and local authorities to consider partnership arrangements for communications should be an option.”

A Department of Health spokesman said work on the future shape of communications services for consortia and the NHS Commissioning Board was “ongoing” and that no decisions had been taken.

HSJ sister title Local Government Chronicle understands that strategic health authorities and the DH are working on a “hub and spoke” national system that would support the communications needs of PCT clusters and emerging GP consortia, which could continue for the long term.

There is also understood to be a significant exodus of communications staff from health service organisations that exceeds projected efficiency requirements.

Mr Stannard’s letter to Sir David Nicholson said that at a time when council and NHS activities were becoming increasingly entwined, it was “the obvious solution to have a communications function that will mirror the growing links”.

He said: “There is a real concern that this level of local (consortia level) issues and demographics, contacts with local partners and media and an inherent understanding of and commitment to the commissioning organisation will be lost through creation of a ‘one size fits all’ model.

“We want the flexibility to allow established and successful shared services such as ours to continue as one of a range of options for GPs to choose from.”