PATIENT groups have protested at the closure of a cashiers’ office at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, warning it will hit the most vulnerable in society.

The Save the Friarage Group say it is another department which is being quietly removed from the hospital, which has been at the centre of huge concern over downgrading of services. The group says the closure is in breach of Government regulations because the office is used to repay travel expenses to people on benefits.

But the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said that the office

has been closed because of the low number of people using it.

Holly Wilkinson, of Save the Friarage, said: "This is another department that has been snuck out the back door and not publicised by the trust.

"It’s picking on the most vulnerable in our society and will put some people off attending routine appointments if they cannot claim their travel expense back on the same day of their visit and have to wait a week or so for their refund to be paid.

The cashiers office has been responsible in the past for counting and banking the daily income from car parking, the café bar and vending machines, and also ran the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme.

This is a Government scheme whereby patients in receipt of any of the qualifying benefits are entitled to claim for help towards their travelling expenses whilst attending a hospital appointment with payments being made in cash on the day they attend during office hours.

A Trust spokesperson said: “All patient-facing cashiers services for South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are now based at the Cashiers’ Office near the north entrance at The James Cook University Hospital.

“Patients attending trust services at other hospital sites, who are eligible to reclaim travelling expenses, can submit their forms by post and be reimbursed by cheque."