WAITING times for patients needing treatment for joints pain have been reduced thanks to a new service.

Since its launch last July, more than 600 patients have benefited from the joint assessment service, which can treat people without them seeing a consultant first.

Patients who previously had to wait up to 26 weeks to see a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Darlington Memorial or Bishop Auckland hospitals are now seen by a physiotherapist within four weeks.

The assessment scheme has been so successful that there are plans to extend it to other areas of the North-East. The service means that those with chronic hip or knee pain can be treated without undergoing joint replacement surgery.

More than half of those referred to the scheme have received treatment without having to see a consultant first.

Extended scope practitioner, Drew Coverdale said: "By assessing and treating people more quickly we can improve the quality of their lives considerably."

The scheme has contributed to the continued fall in outpatient waiting times at the two hospitals and no patient waits more than 21 weeks for an orthopaedic appointment.