I am writing to you to issue a formal complaint regarding the treatment I received at [surgery name] on [date]. Please note this letter is being sent both to [name], practice manager, and [name], chief executive of [local NHS trust].
I regret to report that the discriminatory, aggressive, and humiliating experience I endured at [surgery name] falls far below the high standards I expect from the NHS, and that are laid out in the General Medical Council's code of good medical practice (1).
First, please allow me to furnish you with some background information on my medical situation. I have a complex medical history, including [medical conditions].
Therefore, you can imagine my grave concern when, earlier this year, I developed [description of new medical complaint].
This began on [date] of this year, and, as there had been no improvement by [date], I rang my GP, who asked me to come in for an examination, as they suspected [condition]. During this telephone consultation, I explained that I am mask-exempt, and that this has been documented on my medical records for the past year. The person with whom I spoke did not challenge this, and accepted my offer to wear a scarf that covers my lower face instead, which I had offered to do for the comfort of those around me at the surgery.
There are several reasons underpinning my mask exemption, and one is rape trauma. This trauma involved being held down and having my mouth and nose covered. I do not think I need elaborate on why, therefore, the idea of covering my face now is intensely distressing and traumatic, and why the law protects me from having to do so (2).
Precisely because reasons for mask exemptions can be so personal and so distressing, the law makes it very clear that the mask-exempt are never, under any circumstances, required to disclose the reason for their exemption. It is sufficient to simply state that they are exempt. Anybody challenging this; asking for reasons or "proof"; or discriminating against them as a result of their exemption, is in breach of the Equality Act 2010, and may therefore be liable for a personal fine of up to £5,000 and punitive damages of between £900 and £9,000, as per sections 112 (Aiding Contraventions) and section 119 (Remedies) of this Act (3).
Despite these facts, when I arrived at the surgery for my appointment, I endured a shocking level of discrimination, where I was forced to wait outside in the rain. All other patients were welcomed to wait inside, but I was informed, due to my mask-exempt status, I must wait outside in the cold and wet. I explained that I had already agreed with my GP that, due to my mask exemption, I would wear a scarf for the comfort of others, but this made no difference, and I was not permitted to wait inside the surgery.
When I attended the surgery for a subsequent appointment, with Ms. [name], for a blood test, on [date], I was once again ordered to wait outside by the receptionist. On this occasion, it was sunny, and I was suffering from a migraine, a condition that is exacerbated by bright light. The receptionist told me to wait in my car. I said that, as it is dangerous to drive with a migraine, I had been dropped off and did not have a car to wait in.
I once again explained to the receptionist that I had already agreed with my GP that, as I cannot wear a mask, I would wear a scarf around my lower face, for the comfort of others. The receptionist stated this was not good enough, and that I must wear a blue paper mask, which she offered to me. I repeated that I cannot wear a mask and pointed out to her that it clearly stated on the mask packaging that it did not protect against coronaviruses/Covid-19.
The receptionist refused to adjust her position and instructed me that, if I did not wear a mask, I would have to wait outside, so I was forced to go and sit on a shaded kerb in the car park, even though there were separate plastic cubicles in the waiting room which were ALL empty.
I noticed that the surgery had a sign on the door stating: 'It is an official requirement that you wear a face covering to enter the practice', plus another stating, 'Please ensure you are wearing a face mask. As we deal with vulnerable patients you will not be allowed into the building without one. [Picture of blue face mask.] Thank you for your cooperation.'
There was no reference on either of these signs to the mask-exempt, a legally protected category of person, therefore, the surgery was flagrantly in breach of the law as pertains to disabilities discrimination and protected characteristics, as per equality and human rights legislation. All other settings, including medical settings, I have entered as a mask-exempt person have shown themselves fully conversant with their legal obligations not to discriminate against the mask-exempt, so I was deeply shocked and dismayed to find a trusted doctors' surgery openly flouting the law in this way.
After I had been waiting on the kerb outside for some while (15+ minutes), a nurse came outside and called my name, so I approached to re-enter the surgery. The nurse immediately demanded I wear a mask. I explained, yet again, that I am exempt, showed her my lanyard, and explained I had a scarf to wear as a substitute, as agreed with my GP.
The nurse informed me that she "didn't care" what I had with me, or for what reason. She instructed me I had to wear a mask, or I would not be treated, have a blood test, or be seen by a nurse.
The nurse then approached the receptionist and stated loudly, "that woman will not wear a mask and so I'm not going to treat her". I pointed out that I couldn't, not wouldn't, and that my mask exemption was classed as a disability and she was therefore discriminating against me. Would she have a similar problem if I was in a wheelchair?
She replied that she would not treat me as she has asthma. I asked if she would like to take my blood outside in the fresh air. I repeated that I had my scarf and that I wasn't asking her not to wear her mask.
She abjectly refused. I asked her outright if she was refusing to treat me due to my disability. She declined to answer and walked out.
I asked the receptionist if I was being denied treatment. She told me to wait. I stated I wanted to speak with the practice manager.
Another nurse then came through, held out a visor and told me to put it on, and that she would be taking my blood. I explained I had a migraine and did not wish to wear a visor, yet, feeling desperate and hopeless and that I would not receive urgent treatment unless I complied, in tears, I placed the visor on top of my hair. Then and only then did the surgery finally deign to perform the blood test.
Once the test was complete, I stated to the receptionist that I needed contact details for a formal complaint, as the aggressively discriminatory attitudes of the staff, and unlawfully exclusionary policies of the surgery, are unacceptable: They are causing people to avoid seeking urgent medical attention, which is a catalyst for severe stress, worsening physical and mental health, and, ultimately, suicides. The receptionist told me "not to put that on her" and to complain to the NHS Trust – as I am now doing.
To further compound the appalling bullying and discrimination I endured at this surgery, when I took the visor off after my blood test, it contained a worn paper name tag with '[name]' written on it, meaning the visor was pre-used and not even clean.
What I experienced at [surgery name] on [date] left me feeling sick, humiliated, segregated, ashamed, embarrassed, and deeply traumatised and distressed – therefore exacerbating the initial profoundly distressing trauma that underlies my mask exemption.
Directly following this incident, I found myself sobbing inconsolably, sweating profusely, and experiencing palpitations. My migraine got much worse, and I was physically shaking and unsteady on my feet by the time I came out of the surgery.
Such was the intense distress and trauma of this situation, I have felt unable to even contact the surgery to find out my test results.
I am still in severe pain and am attempting every sort of diet and alternative treatment possible for [suspected medical condition].
However, following the deeply harrowing and distressing experience I endured at [surgery name], I do not feel comfortable to even consult with my doctors' surgery via telephone, much less attend in person.
Therefore, I seek your absolute assurance that the staff of [surgery name], and all staff working for the Trust, will be engaged in rigorous training as pertains to disabilities discrimination and equality and inclusion, as a matter of urgency.
The treatment I received is not just unethical and inappropriate, it is illegal. Therefore, if your staff continue to behave in this way, not only do they risk severely damaging the physical and mental health of patients - perhaps irreparably - but they also risk incurring heavy punitive fines.
I would like to seek your prompt and profuse assurance that such an experience as I endured will never happen again, to anybody, and that I will in future be welcomed back to [surgery name] and treated with the courtesy, dignity, and respect I deserve. Disabilities discrimination is completely unacceptable in all its forms, as is stigmatising, excluding, and further traumatising vulnerable trauma survivors such as myself.
Please be advised that I am taking ongoing legal advice on this situation and expect a response to this letter within 7 working days of today's date.