WORK has begun on the first of a new type of health centre in the region.

Sunderland's first Primary Care Centre will be a kind of halfway house between a conventional health centre and a small hospital.

The hybrid facility, due to open later this year, will relieve pressure on Wearside hospitals. It will combine 24-hour walk-in urgent care services for people with minor injuries and ailments with services for patients with chronic conditions.

This means patients with long-term health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma will have regular, planned treatment sessions at the new centre, alongside patients seeking immediate treatment.

The centre, which is being built next to Sandhill View School, will also have a range of diagnostic equipment, including an x-ray machine, and provide a base for out-of-hours GP and dental services.

Sue Winfield, chairwoman of Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust, recently visited the site to see the progress of construction work by contractors Laing O'Rourke.

Mrs Winfield said: "This is an exciting and very important project that will help to modernise NHS services in Sunderland."

She said it was important for people to understand that the primary care centres will be different to existing health centres or GP surgeries. "They will enhance and broaden patient choice by providing an alternative to hospital for some services," she said.