“SAVE the unit which saved my life.”
That’s the message from a cancer patient who is pleading with health bosses to reconsider plans to axe a unit which provided her with life-saving treatment earlier this year.
And Brenda Cook has warned that if the plans to close the haematology unit at the University Hospital of North Tees do go ahead, then she has “no doubts” that lives will be put at risk.
Brenda was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the end of May, and has spent the last three months undergoing chemotherapy at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
In July, Brenda felt unwell at her home in the Clavering area and after making a call to her specialists she was told to get to the haematology unit at the hospital in Stockton for urgent attention.
It turned out that Brenda had developed a blood infection caused by the chemotherapy, and she was forced to spend four days on the in-patient unit while medics gave her round-the-clock care.
Specialists later told her husband Rob, a Hartlepool councillor, that the infection was so severe it could have killed her had it not been acted upon as quickly.
The couple have been angered by the news that the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust are planning to axe the unit after failing to recruit new staff.
Brenda, 67, said: “That unit saved my life. If it wasn’t for them, then I wouldn’t be here now.
“It may only be eight beds, but that is eight lives that can be saved.
“People might think that is being dramatic, but it’s not.
“I was told that if I hadn’t been seen as quickly, then the infection would have killed me. It’s all about timing, these things have to be acted upon quickly.
“So if the unit is moved to Middlesbrough or Sunderland, then that is further away for patients to travel.
“That added time and disruption of getting to hospital for treatment is vital. People could die because of this.”
Within hours of the Mail revealing the trust’s plans, an online petition was set up and by yesterday more than 2,800 people had signed to say they were opposed to the plan.
Not surprisingly, the mum-of-three has been quick to add her name to the protest.
Brave Brenda spoke to the Mail to voice her concerns just an hour after returning home from another bout of gruelling chemotherapy at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
She went on: “I do feel strongly about this, because when I saw that story I was devastated.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say it is a life-saving unit. I’m proof of that.
“The nurses who looked after me were fantastic. They couldn’t do enough for me.
“They put me and my family at ease all the way through my treatment.
“Having cancer is hard enough for the person dealing with it and their family without having the added stress of worrying if services are going to be either moved or closed.
“I think it is disgraceful that they are even considering this.
“The hospital is run as a business. I understand that. But until these decision-makers have experienced cancer - and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone - then I don’t think they will appreciate just how vital a service this is.”
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust have come under fire for the plan, and are currently in talks with counterparts from James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, and the Sunderland Royal Hospital to see if patients can be treated there.
Brenda’s husband Rob described the plans as “diabolical”.
He said; “These people saved Brenda’s life. They pulled her round.
“Anybody who has any common sense should realise this plan is just diabolical.
“It is ridiculous they are even contemplating it.”
David Emerton, medical director for the Trust, said: “Patient safety is the priority and, while arrangements for haematology inpatient services are still to be finalised, this will be our priority.
“As medical director and a doctor myself, I would not allow any move to take place if I felt it compromised patients’ survival or outcomes.”