OUTRAGED residents have set up an online petition to try and save a cancer unit which has been earmarked for closure.
The Mail revealed on Monday that health bosses plan to axe the haematology unit at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, after drawing a blank in their search for new consultants.
The unit is part of the overall chemotherapy centre at the Stockton hospital which cares for hundreds of cancer patients from Hartlepool and East Durham.
It is being phased out by November, and management at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust are locked in talks with Sunderland Royal Infirmary and James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, to try and find an alternative location for patients to be treated.
The closure will have no impact on the existing chemotherapy/haematology day unit at Hartlepool’s hospital, but campaigners moved quickly to set up an online petition to put pressure on bosses to perform a U-turn.
Within hours of the Mail breaking the news, more than 200 people had added their name to the petition, called simply Keep North Tees Haematology Unit Open.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, meanwhile, feels the uncertainty over the proposed new hospital at Wynyard is having an effect on recruiting new staff.
The petition was set up by Bernie Allen, from Thornaby, whose mother-in-law is an inpatient at the unit.
He said: “I set the petition up at 9.30pm on Monday, and by Tuesday afternoon more than 200 had signed it.
“That shows the feeling against this. I think it is vital that this unit isn’t changed.
“You can’t just scatter people halfway through their treatment, it’s not right.
“I’m glad the petition has had a good response so far, and I’m sure it will continue to get support from people from all of the areas that will be affected.”
There were also angry comments on the Mail’s website and Facebook page from readers angry at the proposed closure.
One reader posted: “My dad recently died of cancer and it was bad enough having to trek to North Tees constantly without a car and too ill to take a bus.
“Now they expect people to travel to Sunderland or James Cook? It’s disgusting when a fully serviceable hospital is 10 minutes away.”
Posting on our Facebook page, Dan Walton said: “Barely anything left in Hartlepool hospital and now they are taking a unit out of North Tees.
And Nicola McKie wrote: “My mam spent nearly six months in this ward for lymphoma, they were like my mams second family and so dedicated to their patients.
“Our family couldn’t praise them enough. Two years later and my mam is still in remission. We thank the haemotology ward for this, it is such sad news to be losing such a fantastic ward.”
Mr Wright said: “My immediate reaction to this is that cancer treatment should be treated as a main priority.
“In this region, we have more than our fair share of cancer, and any change to the care is regrettable.
“By that I mean changing appointments, raising car parking charges, not just closing a ward.
“The priority of the patient is to get better. They shouldn’t have to deal with added disruption.
“Continuing uncertainty over Wynyard can’t help, and while I’m not an expert on recruiting medical staff I would urge the Trust to do more to get these positions filled.”
The unit under threat has eight beds, and treats patients with both malignant and non-malignant diseases of the blood including cancer and leukaemia.
Any town-based patients who have needed the specialist treatment have previously been transferred to Stockton.
Department of Health chiefs have refused to get embroiled in the controversy, refusing to give a comment other than to say the matter was a “local issue”.
David Emerton, medical director for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Over the last four or five years we have made strenuous efforts to recruit medical staff.
“However there is a shortage of doctors with these skills and they are attracted to specialist or tertiary centres in larger towns and cities that see more patients and they can work as part of a bigger team of haematologists.
“It is a tribute to our existing medical staff and the staff they work with that the service has been able to continue for so long.”
The petition can be accessed at www.you.38degrees.org.uk