PATIENTS are being urged to save cash by returning vital medical equipment anonymously during an amnesty at Leighton Hospital in Crewe.
The hospital lends out everything from wheelchairs to breathing nebulisers worth £100 each and failure to return them is costing it thousands of pounds each year.
Hospital chiefs fear some of the 60 missing nebulisers loaned to patients to help them with breathing difficulties may have been sold through car boot sales and the Internet.
The amnesty runs until the end of next month and health chiefs hope most of the nebulisers will be returned.
A Leighton Hospital spokesman says it is not just thieves who take equipment.
'It is usually people who have just forgotten to return items. I would say the percentage who take equipment to sell on is very small, but it does happen.
'Obviously, we appreciate that some people cannot afford to buy one of their own and we understand that. But there are many people who just have not brought them back.
'We are aware nebulisers can turn up for sale on the Internet and at car boot sales, although I am not saying they are necessarily our's.
'But we urge people to bring them back and can assure them that no questions will be asked.'
Karol Stevenson, manageress of Ward Two which deals with specialist chest infections, said: 'Over the winter period we get a greater demand for these portable nebulisers.
'We urgently need the loaned units back so we can get them serviced and issued to new patients, in order to help them and try to keep them from coming back into hospital.'
The nebulisers, known as Porta-Nebs, are used at home by patients who have been in Leighton Hospital with breathing difficulties. They come in a small case, about the size of a small shoebox, and contain a small electric compressor. Compressed air is pushed down a tube into a capsule of medication, which creates a gas that is inhaled by the user. This gas opens the user's airways to help them breath. Anyone wishing to return equipment, including walking sticks and walking frames, wheelchairs and crutches, can take them directly to the main desk at the hospital and leave them there.