PATIENTS who have run up huge phone bills trying to make an appointment to see a doctor are being given the chance to claim some of their money back.

A new phone system was brought in at four surgeries in a bid to stop people having to queue outside to make an appointment.

But the system was branded chaotic with some patients being put on hold for up to an hour while others were unable to get through at all.

Josephine Hambling tried to get through to Frinton Road Medical Centre in Holland-on-Sea last week.

She said: “They’ve gone into meltdown this morning. I was on the phone since 8am.

“To start with it was engaged and engaged and engaged, and now you just get nothing.

“No one can get through at all – it’s pretty dire.

“I don’t know what’s happening there, but no-one is answering the phones at all.

“I’m totally exhausted.

“You can’t go down there because they say you have to phone up for an appointment, but you can’t because no-one is answering the phone.”

“I did get through one afternoon but you are put in a queue and it was 57 minutes before I spoke to someone.

“It’s just terrible – something has gone seriously wrong.”

Ronald Weller, 87, of Holland-on-Sea, racked up a £7.80 phone bill calling Frinton Road.

“I never got through,” he said.

“You have to wait. It can be three quarters of an hour and you are being charged all the time you are waiting.”

The county council has been monitoring the situation after ACE – Anglian Community Enterprise – introduced the new ‘care navigation system’ earlier this year It covers 22,750 patients at its Frinton Road Medical Centre, Epping Close surgery in Clacton, Caradoc in Frinton and Green Elms in Jaywick.

East Clacton county councillor Colin Sargeant said patients had been forced to wait on the phone for an “excessive and unacceptable amount of time”.

Health bosses at ACE have now agreed to compensate people who have spent more than £3 trying to get through over the next three months.

Patients need to send their phone bill highlighting the care navigation call charges to ACE. Mr Sargeant, who is on County Hall’s health scrutiny committee, said he had been “inundated with complaints” from residents since day one of the new system.

He said: “We have been monitoring the situation and working with ACE.

“I think it is a step in the right direction. People need to be reimbursed for the calls.

“They are also recruiting for some new posts.

“I am hoping we will see the service that patients deserve and expect.”

“I have had people saying they have waited on the line for 50 minutes or an hour who are then told to ring back the next day at 8am.”

A spokesman for ACE said: “It has been agreed for up to three months those who have had an increase in their phone bills or an extended call can write to the patient experience team at ACE with a copy of their phone bill with the calls highlighted and a covering letter and we can then deal with it.

“We have pulled out all the stops to make sure we have got extra staff in place so we can get the calls under control and we are expecting call times to improve.”