HEALTH officials have announced they have secured the future of a Darlington doctor's surgery.

The Darlington Primary Care Trust (PCT) has also pledged to improve services in an area with high medical needs.

There were fears the Parkgate surgery could close after one of its three GPs decided to move on.

Yesterday, the PCT said it would tender for medical services at the surgery, which serves 3,700 patients in an area with a high level of deprivation.

Tenders will be invited next month and the new provider is likely to be appointed in February when the building, currently under construction, opens to the public.

The contracting process will be open to existing staff, other practices in the borough and the independent sector.

Whoever wins will have to subscribe to stringent conditions on employment and primary care set down by the trust.

The PCT board was unanimous in backing proposals to secure the future of the surgery.

Chief executive Colin Morris said: "I know some patients have been worried about the future of the practice but there has never been any suggestion to cease providing primary care services from Parkgate.

"We have invested a great deal in the new building. As well as the surgery it will incorporate dentistry, audiology, children's services and podiatry.

"It would make no sense at all to allow the practice to go. In fact our aim has always been to improve care for patients in Darlington."

Deputy director of primary care, Lorraine Tostevin, told the board: "It is a small practice and has just lost a member of staff.

"Our concern was that if another GP left the practice it might not be able to deliver services - so we thought it was best to act now to secure the surgery's future before that happened."

Director of primary care Carole Harder said: "The tender document will insist as a minimum that existing services are maintained.

"The criteria on which we select the new provider will be rigorous so that we maintain a very high quality service from Parkgate Surgery."