HOSPITAL bosses have apologised to a woman with a history of cancer after she was told funding problems meant she could be denied a potentially lifesaving test.

Helen Feldon, 38, from Ingleby Barwick, near Stockton, lives in fear of ovarian cancer because she has a gene that puts her at risk of developing the disease.

Last November, she went to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, for an abdominal ultrasound scan and blood test designed to detect any signs of ovarian cancer.

A month later, when she opened a letter from her consultant, she was horrified to discover that her blood sample had not been processed and that the test could be discontinued because of financial difficulties in the NHS.

In the letter, consultant gynaecologist Dr Anne Ryall wrote: "The laboratory, for some reason, did not process your blood result in November, but I think this can wait until your next round of screening.

"There may be issues over the next few months about whether or not this Trust will fund screening, or at least whether your local PCT will agree to fund it and we will agree to carry on doing it."

An angry and upset Miss Feldon, who survived breast cancer five years ago, contacted The Northern Echo, yesterday.

And last night, the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust apologised to Miss Feldon, offered to retest her and assured other women in the same situation that the ovarian cancer blood test would continue to be offered.

The spokeswoman denied that financial difficulties at the trust had threatened future blood tests for ovarian cancer and described the failure to process Miss Feldon's test as an oversight.

Last Tuesday, the trust announced a programme of spending cuts aimed at saving £10.4m next year. Officials believe the trust is heading for an overspend of at least £13m at the end of the current financial year.For the past few years, Miss Feldon has had annual abdominal scans followed by a blood test, which looks for a tell-tale protein called CA125 produced by ovarian cancer cells.

An ultrasound scan picked up a cyst on one of her ovaries last year.

"It was worrying. You start thinking all these horrible things," said Miss Feldon, who works as a data base administrator in Darlington.

While she was reassured that the cyst had shrunk, she was horrified at the rest of the letter.

"I was upset because I was thinking if they're going to stop doing them, what's going to happen? I'm quite annoyed because I want to know that I'll be fine and that I'll be here in five years time.

"It's peace of mind knowing that you're all right, even if its just for another year. It's for my family as well."

The world's biggest ovarian cancer screening trial is under way at the neighbouring James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough.

Funded by The Eve Appeal charity it aims to establish whether scanning and blood testing women at risk of ovarian cancer can pick up the disease early enough to allow treatment.

Ovarian cancer is sometimes called 'the silent killer' because there are so few symptoms at the early stages.

Every year, 7,000 British women are diagnosed with the disease and 5,000 will die from it.