PEOPLE living with chronic illnesses are being recruited as expert patients to help fellow sufferers.

Dales residents are being included in a national scheme developed by the Department of Health, which offers free courses to help people cope with ailments such as arthritis, asthma, chronic back pain, diabetes, heart conditions, multiple sclerosis and mental health problems.

The courses would run alongside medical treatments, helping people to alleviate symptoms, reduce pain, boost their self-confidence and achieve a better quality of life.

The Expert Patient Programme would cover topics including finding information, making actions plans, pain management, communicating with health professionals and coping with depression. Volunteers would be trained.

Katherine Humby, patient advice and liaison manager for Durham Dales Primary Care Trust, said: "The Expert Patient Programme is a fantastic scheme because it is all about people helping other people with the same illnesses and conditions and sharing their experiences and difficulties to improve their health for themselves.

"Research has shown that the overall benefits are numerous. They can help reduce severe symptoms, improve quality of life and increase patients' confidence."

The dales first Expert Patient Programme starts at the end of April and runs for six weeks in the Four Clocks Centre, Bishop Auckland.

People wanting information and application forms can contact Anne Yuill or Katharine Humby, telephone (01388) 458835.