THOUSANDS of staff are being helped to make healthier lifestyle choices thanks to the work of a North-East hospital trust.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust has signed up to the Government's Public Health Responsibility Deal to play its part in improving public health.

The deal, backed by the Department of Health tsar on work and health Dame Carol Black, consists of a series of voluntary pledges designed to tackle big health issues including alcohol, mental health, food, health at work and physical activity.

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Every year physical and mental ill-health loses the country 100bn in sickness and absenteeism and costs health services 107bn.

The Foundation Trust has already made inroads into improving these statistics locally by delivering its Better Health at Work award scheme.

To date 36,587 employees have benefited from the programme, which offers advice and guidance.

Foundation Trust health improvement lead Vicky Waterson said: "Public health is everyone's responsibility and there is a role for all of us to tackle these challenges "The awards have been incredibly successful in boosting both physical and mental wellbeing among the region's workforce and we are currently actively supporting 80 companies who have signed up to the scheme."

The Better Health at Work Awards are supported by a team of health improvement specialists who deliver services to workplaces in County Durham and Darlington offering health checks such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, seasonal flu vaccinations, physiotherapy and securing specialist advice on a host of health issues.

The trust has also trained 439 workplace health advocates to help their companies to achieve bronze, silver and gold through the award scheme.