Letter to GP's surgery that refused to treat mask-exempt patient

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Written by: Miri
March 23, 2022
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Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you to make a complaint about the [name] medical centre, and the extremely distressing and humiliating experience I endured there when I attempted to attend an urgent appointment on [date].

Some background to this appointment: several months ago, I noticed a mole on my skin that was causing me concern. I visited my GP and was informed the mole was benign and did not require further medical attention. However, this did not allay my concerns, so I visited a private skin consultant who advised I had the mole removed as a precaution. I underwent this procedure at [name of] hospital on [date], and then made an appointment with my GP for [date] to have the resultant stitches removed.

As you can appreciate, having endured months of anxiety regarding my skin condition and the worry this could be indicative of cancer, I was very keen to have the stitches removed as soon as possible and get on with my life, putting this whole distressing episode behind me.

Therefore, I was deeply shocked and dismayed to find that when I arrived at my GP’s surgery, not only did they refuse to treat me, but they refused to let me remain inside the building – because I am mask exempt.

I have made the practice aware of my mask exemption on several previous occasions, and this has never presented any difficulties, as the staff have immediately and uncritically accepted my mask exemption, as the law obliges them to do.

On this occasion, however, the receptionist, [name], stated that if I was unable to wear a mask, then I would have to wear a visor. I clarified to Ms. [name] that being mask exempt means being exempt from all face coverings. In addition to this, the UK Government makes it clear that wearing a visor alone has no effect at reducing the spread of any virus and therefore is an inadequate substitute for a mask – please see reference 1 at footer.

Ms. [name] still refused to accept my exemption, and then made the extraordinary declaration that, without a face covering, I would not be permitted to wait inside the building and ordered me to wait outside in the cold. I was shocked, distressed, and deeply humiliated by such a command, which was relegating me to the level of some sort of undomesticated animal, rather than a human being.

I was shaking with shock and distress as I waited outside and telephoned my mother in tears to explain what was happening. As I waited, several patients walked past me and into the building, where they were permitted to wait in heated comfort, whilst I was forced to remain outside as if I were a disobedient pet.

Eventually, when my appointment time arrived, a nurse, [name], came outside and handed me a visor, which she said I would need to wear to be attended to. I repeated yet again that I was exempt. Ms. [name] then made the astonishing declaration that she had elected to go through my private medical records and that she had decided there was nothing in these records that would make me exempt.

This is an utterly appalling and unacceptable invasive breach of my privacy, and a total abuse and overreach of the authority medical practice staff have. I did not consent to Ms. [name] rifling through my private health records for any reason, and certainly not to use as a weapon against me to try and coercively control my behaviour. Nor does Ms. [name] possess the authority or qualification to “diagnose” patients as exempt or non-exempt, as this is a matter of self-declaration, as per the law.

Mask exemptions are protected under the law as being self-declaratory and they cover a wide array of physical and psychological issues, many of them of a highly sensitive and personal nature, and none of which any person is under any legal obligation to report to their GP.

Being a rape survivor, for instance, qualifies one for mask exemption, and I am sure that any person with any normal level of empathy and common sense can understand that not all sexual abuse survivors feel compelled to detail these horrific and harrowing experiences to their local GP’s surgery – including and especially surgeries which are so lacking in basic compassion as to try and forcibly cover the faces of people whose comprehensive personal histories, and what traumas they may have undergone, they are not privy to. Please note that it is illegal to ask an individual what condition their mask exemption is based on.

At this point in my encounter with the GP’s surgery, standing outside in tears whilst a stranger had invaded my privacy and was trying to coercively cover my face, I felt bullied, victimised, and violated - all of which were exacerbating the trauma and distress I had already been undergoing for the past several months due to anxiety about my skin condition.  I found it very hard to reconcile the public image of professional healthcare staff – as beacons of compassion, empathy, and patient-centred care – with the hostile, bullying, and deeply distressing experience I was enduring.

As it was clear the GP’s surgery intended to continue openly flouting the law by engaging in illegal disabilities discrimination by refusing me service on the basis of my mask exemption (this is illegal under the Equality Act 2010, please see reference 2), I was forced to leave, without fulfilling my urgent appointment and having my stitches removed.

I was therefore forced to make alternative arrangements and schedule an appointment to have my stitches removed at the local hospital, who treated me with complete courtesy and respect, and uncritically recognised my mask exemption. The staff I spoke to there were shocked and appalled when I told them the local GP’s surgery had refused to treat me, and why.

I then wrote a letter of complaint to the GP’s surgery and was utterly aghast at their reply, in which they confirmed they are aware they are breaking the law by coercing people into wearing masks and refusing to treat them if they do not, but that they intend to continue such deeply unethical and illegal behaviour regardless.

To be clear, mask exemptions have never required any endorsement or certification from medical professionals, and both the UK Government (see reference 1) and doctors themselves (see reference 3) have stated unequivocally that mask exemption certificates will a) not be provided by doctors and b) are not required under the law for mask exemptions to be universally recognised. It is imperative that all organisations that work with the public, including and especially those working in the field of health, understand that mask exemptions are universal, apply in all environments equally, and cannot be overridden by the “policies” of practice managers.

The law further states that to ask an individual for any details on what condition their exemption is based on, or to refuse them service on the basis of their exemption, is illegal, and punishable by 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 the Equality Act 2010.

I have taken legal advice on this situation and am advised that my experience constitutes explicit disabilities discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. I am seeking further legal advice regarding what laws may have been breached by practice staff reading through my private medical records without my consent and for illegitimate reasons.

I look forward to your response acknowledging my complaint and detailing what measures will be taken to ensure the [name] medical centre becomes fully conversant and complaint with the law, and that such unethical, upsetting, and illegal discrimination as I experienced will never happen to any patient again.

Yours sincerely,

[Name]

REFERENCES:

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own#if-youre-not-able-to-wear-a-face-covering
  2. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents
  3. https://www.burtondocs.co.uk/2020/07/21/face-mask-exemption-letters-no-gp-medical-letter-needed/
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