HEALTH bosses have apologised after scores of stressed visitors complained about being incorrectly charged to park at Colchester Hospital and its neighbouring walk-in centre.

Number plate recognition systems now operate at both sites meaning the exact time vehicles spend there is recorded on camera.

Fees are paid at the end of a visit using a touch screen.

The first hour at the walk-in centre should be free and charges start at £3 after that.

Hospital parking is free for half an hour and then starts at £2.

Alison Phillips said she left the hospital car park at 3.30am on Tuesday and the screen wasn’t recognising her vehicle registration.

She said: “There was no number to ring. I had my nine-year-old daughter with me who had been on the children’s assessment unit all evening.

“The last thing I needed was to be stressing out whether the barrier was going to open or not or was I going to get a fine for non-payment.”

On Wednesday night when she returned with her daughter, the number plate recognition system had not registered her leaving the night before. It charged her £10 for a 24-hour stay.

She said: “It’s just so stressful.”

Walk-in centre visitor Peter Herring said: “I entered my car registration and the screen did not offer my car.

“What to do? There is no help prompt on the screen and no notices anywhere on what to do or who to contact.

“Several other people were also caught in this trap. If you persist on entering your registration, a screen comes up and asks you to say how much you want to pay. I had been there for less than 30 minutes so there should have been no charge. Absolutely disgraceful.”

Jo Davey, who also went to the walk-in centre, added: “The machines have had issues all week. On Monday it reckoned I had been there one day and six hours.

“Thankfully security were assisting at the machines and overriding the ridiculous charges.”

Ms Davey said people were advised to keep receipts in case fines arrived in the post.

A hospital spokesman said: “We are very sorry if anyone has been charged more than they were supposed to pay during their stay at Colchester Hospital or the walk-in centre and would ask them to contact as soon as possible, with proof of payment, to be refunded.

“We are having some technical problems with the equipment used which are being addressed as a matter of urgency.”