Published: 06:00, 16 September 2020
A patient who is exempt from wearing a face mask claims she is being refused entry to her GP surgery unless she wears one.
Naomi Roberts, 55, says she was told by a receptionist at Minster Surgery that there are no exceptions and she must wear one when she enters the building on the high street.
But bosses say they insist on patients wearing face coverings because there are several “very at-risk” members of staff working there.
Ms Roberts, from Minster , suffers from chronic autoimmune urticaria - a skin condition where she gets severe hives on her body caused by allergies. She says wearing a mask causes laboured breathing and coughing.
“I feel as though I’m being prevented from accessing healthcare and I’m sure there are many substantially more vulnerable people who are too,” she said.
“It is impossible to get through by phone to the surgery and so I went there last Tuesday to get a prescription and make an appointment.
“When I walked in I was told ‘out, out, out’ because there was someone already in there and when they let me in she said to put on a face covering and I explained that I am exempt.
“I was told they don’t make any exceptions. Then she spoke to someone on the phone and after that I was again told I’m not permitted to stay unless I wear one.
“I was about five foot away from her and she was behind a screen.”
The mum-of-four says she has been having injections for her condition for the past five months, which can have serious side effects.
“This makes it even more worrying as it’s not very reassuring knowing I’m not able to access my GP in person and by phone is virtually impossible,” she said.
“It really is a very concerning issue as it is not just me individually that is being prevented from accessing healthcare.
“It is disgraceful that as a patient of Minster Surgery I and many others cannot get to see a GP. Some vulnerable and elderly people may give up trying, which is worrying as they could become very unwell.”
Mrs Roberts says her 14-year-old son Zeb, who goes to Chatham and Clarendon Grammar School, has been suffering anxiety attacks when he wears a mask and she worries in case he needs to go to the GP.
“I feel as though we are discriminated against because we can’t wear a mask,” she said.
“If I need a prescription or to make an appointment, what do I do?”
The Department of Health advises patients to wear face coverings in GP surgeries - but it is not mandatory.
Sandra Horton, practice manager at Minster Surgery, says if people are unable to wear a face covering, they offer them a visor.
She says Ms Roberts “didn’t give us a chance to explain this before leaving the premises”.
Ms Horton said: “Our policy is everyone must wear a face covering because we have a lot of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) doctors and healthcare assistants who are at risk.
“It doesn’t have to be a mask. It can be a scarf or anything they are comfortable with.”
Patients are also able to wait outside without a mask on, if they so wish. All staff wear PPE.
Ms Horton added: “I have very at-risk staff in the surgery and I have to protect them as we wouldn’t be able to run the surgery without them.”