PATIENTS have praised a new "hip factory" designed to speed up access to surgery.

The surgical unit, at Bishop Auckland General Hospital, County Durham, was set up three months ago in an effort to reduce waiting lists for hip and knee replacements.

Despite having to close for a few weeks at Christmas due to a temporary problem with infections, the centre has treated 113 patients since it opened in October.

When it opened there were some concerns that patients from outlying areas of County Durham might be reluctant to travel to Bishop Auckland to have their operation.

But so far there has been no shortage of patients willing to be treated at the new unit and it looks set to become the largest unit of its kind in the region.

Patients who opt to have the operation closer to home can still have their joint replacement at the University Hospital of North Durham or Darlington Memorial Hospital.

Sixty out of 61 patients who returned a questionnaire said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the way their treatment has been handled.

Catering only for patients who require routine, uncomplicated joint replacements, the unit's main advantage is that operations are far less likely to be postponed to make way for emergency surgery.

None of the patients who returned questionnaires had experienced problems getting to the centre.

Howard Epstein, clinical director for orthopaedics with the County Durham trust, said: "We are delighted that patients attending the new unit have been impressed by the standard of care we offer.

"Bishop Auckland General Hospital should be the first choice for anyone requiring routine joint replacement surgery in County Durham."

In total, five patients experienced post-operative infections, but the centre has now been given the all-clear and surgery has resumed.