A hospice in Darlington has become the first in our region to offer a 24-7 response to palliative care patients, if you call 999 or the 111 advice line.

The St Teresa's Hospice rapid response service is now among the options for NHS call handlers in the area. It should allow more patients to receive medical, practical or emotional support in their homes.

NHS call handlers now refer suitable patients to the hospice. They see 15 to 20 every day. Some need pain relief, others support to get around.

What we've wanted to do is provide a safety net for patients.

Alison Marshall, St Teresa's Hospice

Yvonne Rowe campaigned to open the hospice 30 years ago. Now she's a patient, with cancer of the oesophagus.

But she was able to spend a couple more weeks at home, thanks to the community support team.

Well, I was getting more and more weak, I just needed a bit of help washing, and what not. They were so kind - and such a comfort to know they were coming, you know?

Yvonne Rowe, hospice patient

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, which runs local hospitals, says it welcomes the hospice's new role.

This is a charity that gets some funding from the government, but mainly relies on donations.

St Teresa's rapid response team can only respond to calls in the Darlington area at the moment.

But they think it's a model that could be rolled out elsewhere, as hospices play a greater role in supporting the NHS to care for our ageing population.

The most important thing though is helping patients like Yvonne be as comfortable as possible in their final days.