A PATIENT fled the Royal Bolton Hospital by smashing his way out of a builders' compound in a stolen dumper truck.

The young man was last seen heading down Plodder Lane in the bright blue dumper truck, which belongs Burnley-based firm Dale Construction, in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The company is now appealing for help to trace the vehicle, which is only a year old and worth £20,000.

Builders are busy constructing a new urology unit next to the maternity department at the hospital site.

Heavy machinery is in use, but at night it is secured in a fenced and locked compound.

But builders were astonished when they discovered a patient had managed to break into the compound, start a dumper truck and drive it through the locked gates.

The incident, at 2.28am, was captured on CCTV, but the thief was last seen heading towards the Flowers Estate.

It is thought the patient had turned up at the Accident and Emergency department earlier in the evening and was in the process of being admitted when he decided to leave.

"It was said that he had escaped by climbing over a roof, but I don't know whether that is the case," said Dawn Odgers, boss of Dale Construction.

Several vehicles were stored in the compound, but the thief climbed over the fence and somehow managed to start the blue dumper truck and drove off.

Workers found the compound open yesterday morning .

"All the gates were wide open in the morning so he was definitely coming out," said Mrs Odgers.

Although the dumper truck needs a key, Mrs Odgers says the truck, which is "quite distinctive" can be started easily.

She believes the thief will have only been able to make his getaway slowly.

"I wouldn't have though it would go faster than 10mph," she said.

Mrs Odgers is concerned for the driver as neither he nor the truck have been seen since.

"If it is someone who is not thinking right he could be upside down in a ditch," she said.

"I am hoping someone spots it and reports it to the police."

Dale Construction is a family-run firm and the last time they had a machine stolen was in 2007.

"It is upsetting because it is a family business and it is our own machine," said Mrs Odgers.

The loss of the equipment meant work at the site was delayed yesterday.

"It is a very tight project timewise anyway," said Mrs Odgers.

"It has put us back a bit. We are just going to have to manage with what we have got there."

Police are investigating the theft and security at the compound has been increased, with new locks and a watchman as well as CCTV.