THOUSANDS of patients are to benefit from a change in the way GPs operate in Sunderland.

Nine practices in the north of the city are joining the Personal Medical Services scheme.

It is expected to bring more GPs and nurse practitioners to the area, and provide better and more easily accessible services.

The scheme, part of a national initiative, aims to give GPs more flexibility in the way they run their practices, and the freedom to introduce new ways of working to meet local needs.

Health Minister John Denham announced the successful applicants.

Sunderland North Primary Care Group chief executive Elaine Rodger said: "We are delighted with the news and look forward to working with the successful practices, to implement the scheme from April.

"The practices had to go through a tough application process, and their plans had to show benefits for patients."

Among plans approved are Dr Martin Weatherhead's proposal to take on a GP partner and part-time nurse practitioner for his one-man practice at Southwick Health Centre.

He hopes to increase opening hours, run teenage sexual health and diabetes clinics, and improve care of the elderly.

Osteoporosis and cardiac risk assessment will be introduced, the range of minor surgery offered will increase, and there will be more stop smoking clinics.

The Deerness Park Medical Centre will seek funding for two new GPs and two nurse practitioners.

It aims to provide routine appointments within 48 hours, improve services for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma, and boost services for mentally ill patients and the terminally ill