THE North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust has been praised for improving the working lives of its staff.

The trust has achieved the Improving Working Lives (IWL) practice award after demonstrating a range of projects to enhance working life for its 4,700 employees.

The national IWL scheme is designed to ensure NHS staff are given every opportunity to achieve a healthy balance between their home and working lives.

Organisations are measured against standards in areas including flexible working, training and development, staff benefits, childcare, equality and diversity and communication.

The trust was awarded the accolade following an assessment in November.

Several initiatives were singled out for particular praise, including the free staff counselling service and the trust's flexible working practices, which include job-sharing, phased retirements and self-rostering.

However, the assessment also identified areas for improvement in order for the trust to receive the Practice Plus Award. These included developing e-mail and Internet access, personal development plans for staff and staff involvement processes.

John Rhodes, chairman of the staff side of the Trust Consultative Group, said: "We should not be complacent. This award gives the trust an excellent starting point on which to build and develop staff-centred working practices in the future."