ONE of Darlington's best known GP practices is celebrating the start of a new era this week.

The Netherlaw Surgery in Stanhope Road collected the keys to a new home in a disused pub, and for the next two weeks it will be all systems go as staff gear up to move to the new premises in Bondgate.

The new surgery, called Blacketts Medical Practice, will open for business for its 8,500 patients on November 1.

As well as the surgery for five doctors, the former Blacketts pub will house district nurses, health visitors and clinics.

Practice manager Jim Whitton said the move could mean more patients being taken on.

Netherlaw Surgery will close on October 29. An emergency surgery will operate that day, then staff will work over the weekend to complete the move.

"The new building is absolutely fantastic," said Mr Whitton.

The practice partners have put a significant amount of funds into the £2.1m project.

Original artwork has been commissioned; there will be tapestries and a much-loved stained glass window has been taken from Netherlaw and installed in the new premises.

"It will be a really different experience for patients," said Mr Whitton.

Former practice manager Campbell Lees has stayed on after retirement to see the scheme through.

"The new facilities are excellent. Simple things such as lifts have made a difference. Elderly patients have often struggled to get up the stairs at Netherlaw," sid Mr Whitton.

"It could mean we can take on more patients. We would hope so but we are limited by doctor resources.

"Communications will be better and there will be more treatment available on site."

Rowlands will run a neighbouring pharmacy and in the surgery there will be private enterprises such as a chiropodist and physiotherapist.

A new feature is a dedicated area to be used as a victim suite by police out of normal hours.

Netherlaw has been a doctors' surgery since the late Twenties but the practice simply ran out of room. The new building will provide the wider range of services required by the NHS, with the added bonus of patient parking.

The old surgery may be converted into flats.

An open day for patients is being organised.