A BUS route which provides an important link to hospitals has been thrown a lifeline.

Bus company Arriva proposed changes to the 3B service, which runs between Bishop Auckland and Hartlepool.

It said the section between Ferryhill and the Trimdons was hardly used, and wanted to withdraw that part of the service. There are also plans to reduce the frequency of the service between Trimdon and Hartlepool.

Peter Crawforth, secretary of the Chilton West Residents Association, said a number of residents were concerned about the proposed changes.

He said: "People with illnesses are often referred to Sedgefield Community Hospital for treatment and the 3B is the only direct service from Chilton.

"While it is possible to get to Sedgefield using other services it involves a trip to Durham, a long wait and then a service from Durham to Sedgefield. How can Arriva justify this cut in services to Chilton?"

Steve Burd, commercial director of Arriva North East, said the changes were supposed to take effect on April 15, but Durham County Council had agreed to provide support to run the service until June 3.

A spokesman for the council confirmed that the Chilton to Sedgefield section of the route was used by only a handful of customers each day.

He said: "It's more the fact that people like to consider it being there when they need it."

He added: "Of equal concern to us is the reduction in the frequency of the service to Hartlepool because there is a hospital there as well.

"What we are in the process of agreeing with Arriva is to maintain the service with cash support while we have a close look at the future of it.