COUNTY Durham and Darlington is one of the top hospital trusts in the country when it comes to rapid appointments.

That is the conclusion of hospital bosses after a survey found that 88 per cent of patients had been given an outpatient appointment inside three months. This places the County Durham and Darlington trust in the top five in England.

The Healthcare Commission patient survey, conducted in the summer and autumn of last year and published today, suggested that about three out of four patients were spending four hours or less in accident and emergency.

However, the trust's own figures show that performance has been improving steadily since then, with more than 95 per cent now seen within the four-hour mark.

In fact, the trust has exceeded the Government target of 98 per cent for two of the last four weeks.

Trust chief executive John Saxby said: "We have some of the busiest A&E units in the North-East, and reducing the length of time people have to wait remains a high priority for us."

Thanks to measures put in place to tackle the issue, far fewer patients are having to spend more than four hours in the trust's emergency departments.

The survey contacted 259 patients who had visited the trust's A&E department and 293 who had attended outpatient appointments.

Other key findings of the survey included:

* 68 per cent of A&E patients were examined by a doctor or nurse inside the first hour.

* 94 per cent of patients who expressed an opinion reported the A&E department as "very clean" or "fairly clean".

* 74 per cent of patients said they were seen within 30 minutes of their scheduled outpatient appointment time.

The trust includes Darlington Memorial Hospital, Bishop Auckland General Hospital and the University Hospital of North Durham.