A PIONEERING walk-in medical centre has been hailed a success after thousands of people used its services during its first month.

Darlington MP Alan Milburn opened Dr Piper House, the new walk-in health centre and headquarters of Darlington Primary Care Trust, on January 21.

Since then, the unit has treated 1,586 patients - winning praise from staff and members of the public. The £2m centre, in King Street, treats on average 75 people a day for minor injuries and ailments.

Health bosses are delighted because it is relieving pressure on Darlington Memorial Hospital's accident and emergency department.

Trust chief executive Colin Morris said: "The early indications are that the right types of cases are using the walk-in centre, with just two patients having to be referred to the hospital.

"We are getting significant activity on Saturday mornings and early analysis has identified that a high percentage of patients attending have Darlington postcodes, so it is representing good value for money for the town."

Pharmacy representative Carol Charlton said: "The walk-in centre is proving popular with pharmacies because they can refer people there for treatment when the GP surgeries are closed, especially on Saturday mornings."

One of three centres in the North - the others being at Newcastle and York - the Darlington centre treats patients at nurse-led clinics, from 7am until 10pm during the week and from 9am until 10pm on Saturday and Sunday.

It supports the town's 11 GP practices, the new out-of-hours service and the hospital and was designed to provide an innovative approach to meeting local people's health needs.

The centre will also eventually take appointments to help people manage chronic diseases, including asthma and diabetes, and offer retinal and foot screening.

Complementary therapies, health promotion and counselling services will also have a home in the centre.

The Patient Advice and Liaison Service has an office on the ground floor.

The trust's director of primary care, Carole Harder, said: "We really have had a lot of positive feedback from people, especially from the staff who are working at the walk-in centre."