Patients waiting for surgery are to be sent abroad for treatment as part of a pilot scheme to reduce waiting times.

Fifteen patients at Eastbourne District General Hospital (EDGH) will travel to northern France in January for hip or knee operations.

The move to refer patients overseas is part of a national drive to cut waiting times for non-emergency surgery.

A spokesman for the EDGH said: "On Saturday they saw the French consultant and anaesthetist who will be treating them for a pre-op assessment.

"They will travel to the hospital in mid to late January."

All the patients chose to be treated abroad.

Eastbourne's Conservative MP Nigel Waterson said: "I am obviously pleased that some patients will be getting treatment earlier than they might otherwise but it does highlight the considerable pressure on our local hospital, particularly with cuts outside £1 million being implemented."

The current maximum waiting time for a hip or knee operation at the EDGH is between 12 and 15 months.

All the patients will have exceeded a 12-month wait by March next year.

Last year we revealed how Don Higgins, from Crawley, travelled to Germany for a cataract operation.

A ruling from the European Court of Justice means patients facing a lengthy wait for non-emergency surgery can seek help from other EU countries.

A spokeswoman for Eastbourne Downs Primary Care NHS Trust said funding for the operations came from a pot of money set aside by central Government.

The cost of a hip operation in France is believed to be comparable to that in Germany, which is around £6,000 per patient.

The cost of the surgery in England is around £4,000.

The group will be treated at the Clinic Chirurgi Cale d'Hesdin Hospital in the town of Hesdin, northern France.

The town is around an hour's drive away from the French port of Calais.