SPECIALIST hospital staff at one of the region's biggest trusts are being asked to work weekends as part of proposed changes to the hearing service.

Until recently the audiology service at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust has only been available on weekdays.

But because the primary care trust which purchases care on behalf of residents wants the audiology service to be provided at weekends, managers at the hospital trust have asked staff if they are willing to work weekends on a regular basis.

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Since the New Year staff have been providing a Saturday morning service on a voluntary basis at Darlington Memorial Hospital one week and the University Hospital of North Durham the following week.

Now trust managers are consulting formally with staff on the proposal to introduce permanent weekend working.

The move follows the decision to put the adult hearing service out to public tender.

This means that any qualified provider can bid for the contract which has been previously held by the County Durham and Darlington hospital trusts audiology service.

The need for weekend working was required by the primary care trust - NHS County Durham and Darlington.

A spokesman for the hospital trust said: "As a trust we want to ensure that we are in a position to be able to continue providing health services for our local population and to do this we need to meet the needs of our patients and the requirements of our commissioners.

"The trust has increased its service provision and is now running the audiology service over six days a week.

"Patients can now be seen by appointment only on alternative Saturdays at University Hospital of North Durham and Darlington Memorial Hospital between the hours of 8am and 1pm."