“I was assaulted, a hand was put over my mouth... so I just can't wear a mask – but GP's demands made me tremble”
Woman who was harassed, intimidated and threatened with withdrawal of treatment reveals why this kind of discriminatory behaviour is so damaging to so many
“For a senior medical professional to treat me the way she did is a gross lack of professional conduct which should not be acceptable to anyone. I thought they were going to call the police” - Christine Manning
By Laura Berrill
CHRISTINE MANNING was 18 when she was sexually assaulted by her employer in the back of a camper van. The attacker went on to abuse her for several months where she worked in Greece, after taking her passport away.
The feelings of disgust, guilt and self-loathing which are so common in victims of these types of crimes prevented her from revealing what happened until very recently, when she told her mother and a friend. But for years the effect of the attack remained.
When the pandemic struck, Christine was unable to wear a mask, for obvious reasons.
“When I was attacked, I was travelling to Greece to work as a nanny for a wealthy Greek businessman and his wife,” she said. “It [the attack] was in the back of a camper van. When he assaulted me, he held a hand over my mouth so no one on the camp site would hear. After we arrived in Greece, he went on to assault me again and made me go on the pill so that, in his words, ‘I didn’t get pregnant like the last nanny’.”
In order to make it difficult for her to leave, the businessman withheld her passport and, Christine says, she stayed because she was terrified and did not know what to do.
“I’d tried to shut it all out – but the mask mandate brought it all back”
“It had been the first time I had ever left my home village and I felt so confused and afraid I had no idea how to get out,” she says. “Ever since, I have tried to shut it out but wanted to speak out now because the mask mandate brought everything back.
“It came to a head with my experience at the hands of a GP at the surgery I have been with since childhood.”
Christine, 57, from Kettering, went on to foster teenage girls, many of which had also been the victims of sexual predators, even among friends and families. She said it was her way of trying to help others survive such traumatic and life-changing experiences and helped her deal with her own trauma.
But this returned when mask mandates were imposed in the summer of 2020. Christine made sure she got an exemption and wore her lanyard. But she began to experience difficulties with her local GP surgery, Dryland Surgery, in Kettering.
Owing to a hereditary condition, for the last 15 years she has had to receive three-monthly vitamin B12 injections. She has always attended wearing the lanyard, but at her last appointment in November she says the attitude of the staff changed and they started to flag up her unvaccinated status and pressure her to put on a face covering.
“The receptionist said there was no medical reason for me to be exempt”
“At the last appointment I was harassed by both the receptionist and practice nurse. The receptionist ran out of the office and prevented me from going into the seating area by the nurses station because I was not wearing a mask. When I explained that I was exempt the receptionist said there was no medical reason why I should be.
“Of course, she didn’t know about my past and that was obviously none of her business. People just don’t think that actually there may be very real reasons why people are exempt. She also said she saw that I was unvaccinated and that I was a risk to everyone there. I thought, if everyone here is vaccinated and masked, how can I be a threat? I received the vitamin injection but, as I left, they told me that next time I had to wear a mask.”
Fast forward three months to February 18. Christine attended as usual and went in to wait by the nurse’s station. And because of her experience last time she had decided to record her visit.
She said she had been sat waiting for about 30 seconds before the experience unfolded and she was met for the first time by the doctor that had taken over from her previous life-long GP, a Doctor Annie Beckett, a Senior Practice Doctor.
Christine says: “Dr Beckett saw me, thundered down the corridor, went into the nurses station slamming the door behind, then came out and demanded I put on a face covering.
“I told her I was exempt, but she kept insisting I put on a mask, wear a visor or any other form of face covering, it became quite desperate. She was standing over me as I sat only inches away, which is bizarre seeing as you would have thought she would also insist of some sort of distancing.
“When I kept refusing, she indicated that I would therefore not receive treatment and would have to go elsewhere. When I pulled her up on that and said it was harassment and discrimination under Section 2 of the Equalities Act 2010, she rescinded this and eventually allowed me to receive my injection.”
“The whole experience left me distressed and shaken”
Despite remaining calm and polite during the exchange, Christine added that she was shaking and continued to feel distress afterwards and sat in the car shaking with her hands sweating.
She said: “The whole experience made me feel completely and utterly shaken. I am usually articulate and strong, but I was genuinely frightened. I thought she had gone to call the police, that was my gut feeling. I have animals and it crossed my mind if I am arrested who was going to look after them. You shouldn’t have to be made to feel like that.
“I was made to feel like I was some naughty child, it’s patronising and humiliating. I pay into the NHS and have done all my life, why should I have to feel like I can’t use it and should get the injections from private sources?
“Out of principle I will be going back for my next appointment in May and I do not expect to be treated in this way again, no one should. These people don’t even stop to think that there may be extremely valid reasons why some people won’t wear a mask, they don’t even consider it. If that’s the attitude of a so-called health professional who has a total lack of empathy, maybe she’s in the wrong job.”
Before Christmas, one of Christine’s friends was also told by the same surgery’s staff to stand outside to wait for an appointment. She is also exempt from wearing a mask.
Christine has now lodged a complaint with the Equality Commission and has had an acknowledgement and a reference sent to her.
Drylands Surgery was approached for comment. Ms Savage replied saying she was unable to respond due to patient confidentiality, adding that the surgery “takes complaints seriously”. She recommended that Ms Manning wrote directly to her, collect a complaints pack from the surgery, or email the complaint details to her via the ‘contact us’ form on their website, or, alternatively, call or write to NHS England.
News Uncut is aware that this issue over the failure to recognise exemptions in GP surgeries is not an isolated case.
One surgery in Essex treated a patient in the same manner, despite there being no one present in the practice at the time besides the staff, who were stood behind a desk-to-ceiling plastic shield.
The patient was not actually attending for an appointment, but to request a repeat prescription that the surgery had failed to complete after an online request. They refused to recognise his exemption, saying it did not apply in the surgery, at which point he told them to check the Government rules. He then told them they were making him extremely anxious with their constant pressure.
The patient in question later received a letter threatening to strike him off the patient list: