A THIEF stole a pensioner’s wedding and engagement rings as she had surgery at Royal Blackburn Hospital.

Heartbroken Marlene McGuirk-Ruane had gone to the hospital for a keyhole operation to check if she had cancer.

But she was devastated when she found her two wedding rings, two engagement rings and a pair of gold necklaces had been taken from her bag as she lay on the operating table.

A leading patient campaigner described the theft as ‘despicable’ and warned patients to be vigilant.

Police said the incident was one of nine thefts from the hospital reported to them since October 1.

Other items stolen included items from a handbag, a mobile phone, a bike and clothes taken from a staff area.

Mrs McGuirk-Ruane, 77, said she had received one of the wedding rings from her late husband, Jim, 60 years ago.

She said: “I only realised when I got to the hospital that I had forgotten to take my jewellery off.

“When they asked me to change I put everything inside a case I had taken with me.

“We thought I would be in overnight so my husband, Michael, went home and the nurse said I could leave my case at the hospital and it would be safe.

“As I was leaving they got my case and I went home in a taxi.”

Mrs McGuirk-Ruane and her husband, who she married in 2009, had arrived at the hospital at 9.30am for a 10am appointment.

While she was having her blood pressure taken in a small room she was asked to step behind a curtain to get changed.

At that point she put her clothes and jewellery into the case.

She was then taken to another room and she said she did not see her case again until 4.30pm after being told she could go home because her lump was not cancerous.

Mrs McGuirk-Ruane, from Blackpool, said she was so consumed with relief she did not notice the missing jewellery.

She said: “I had been waiting for a month for the surgery so I had been quite upset.

“I had told Michael to take the case home but the nurse said it would be safe so he left it and went home.

“When I checked the case the next day at home I found out it had all gone. I was in shock.

“Nobody should have to go through this. I can’t buy those rings again, they meant so much to me.

“The people who have them should burn in hell.”

Russ McClean, from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), said he was horrified to learn of the theft.

He said: “What sort of despicable person would steal from somebody who is in hospital having treatment or an operation?

“I would ask all patients to be extra vigilant and if they see anything suspicious to report it to a member of staff.

“I would also advise people not to take valuables with them if they are going to hospital.”

A spokeswoman for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said: “The trust has been made aware of this incident.

“The trust is undertaking a full investigation into the allegation and a PALS officer is in the process of contacting Mrs McGuirk directly following her contact with them.”