A disabled woman has described how the government and its contractors failed to make any allowance for her impairment and treated her like a prisoner during her stay in a “managed quarantine hotel”.
Because she was placed in an unsuitably small room, she was unable to complete the vital stretching exercises she needs to carry out every day to control the symptoms of the muscular dystrophy she was diagnosed with 18 months ago.
Julia*, an international consultant, was repeatedly shouted at by the G4S security guards who police the 15-minute exercise slots outside the London Heathrow Radisson Hotel, where about 500 quarantined travellers are staying at a cost of £1,750 each.
She had been transported to the hotel by bus following eight hours in a queue at Heathrow airport, after arriving from an east African country.
Julia said the food at the Radisson was “absolutely appalling”. For the first five days of her 10-day stay, the evening meals the hotel provided were just “rice with some slop with curry powder and floaty bits of meat”. She said she barely saw a vegetable for five days.
At first, she was restricted to just two exercise slots a day, but after talking to an on-site paramedic, this was increased on the fourth day to three periods of exercise and a total of one hour a day, although like the other travellers she was still restricted to walking up and down a small section of car-park outside the hotel.
Despite complaining to the hotel about her treatment from the day of her arrival, her ordeal only eased after five days, when her MP, who is also a cabinet minister, intervened.
As a result, she was moved to a larger room, and began to receive a sizeable serving of salad with two of her meals every day.
Among her concerns is that she says there is no way for a disabled traveller arriving in England to highlight on the government form they have to fill out what their access needs are.
There is a small box on the form for “other information”, but although she stated that she had muscular dystrophy, she believes that was disregarded by the hotel, and G4S.
Julia said: “It wasn’t considered at all in terms of where I was housed or the conditions which I had to battle against.
“I wasn’t put in a room suitable for someone with a mobility issue. I have to use my muscles or lose them. Exercise is really important.
“I am a tax-payer, I am doing this willingly and I am being treated as if I am in a POW camp.”
She is concerned that other disabled people might not feel able to complain as loudly and effectively as she did, “particularly if English is not their first language or they are not used to complaining or they don’t have the confidence to complain”.
Despite her own treatment eventually improving, her concerns appear to have been confirmed by another disabled woman she spoke to this week.
The woman, who has a mobility impairment, told her that she and her husband had been placed in a room that was too small to allow her to do the exercises she needs to do, and that although she has coeliac disease – where a person’s immune system attacks their gut if they eat gluten – she had not had a single gluten-free meal provided by the hotel.
Julia said: “They need to treat people with respect and not treat us like criminals.
“My message to the government is to create a system that is fit for purpose but does not infringe on people’s basic human rights.
“It’s just wrong. They take absolutely no consideration for the welfare of the guests. None.
“I am convinced the only reason my treatment changed is because my MP is a cabinet minister.
“My treatment has not improved because of my complaints, it has not improved because I am disabled, it has not improved for any of those reasons, it is purely because I am lucky that my MP is somebody who has influence.”
Julia, who was due to return home last night after her 10-day ordeal, has now called on the government to review conditions in its quarantine hotels.
Under England’s quarantine scheme, anyone who has travelled in or through a country on the banned travel “red list” has to stay in a “managed quarantine hotel” for 10 days.
Those who arrive from other countries only need to quarantine in the place they are staying in England.
Although the east African country was not on the COVID-19 red list when Julia flew there for work, it had been placed on the list by the time she left the country.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care, which runs the quarantine hotel scheme, said he could not comment on individual cases.
He declined to comment on the apparent failure of the scheme to include a way for disabled people to highlight their access needs, or on Julia’s call for the system to be reviewed to ensure it does not breach people’s human rights and does not “treat people like criminals”.
But he said in a statement: “Our top priority has always been protecting the public and the robust border regime we introduced is helping minimise the number of new variants imported into the UK.
“The government continues to ensure every person in quarantine gets the support they need and all hotels providing facilities are accommodating the vast majority of people’s requirements.
“Hotels take all necessary steps to address concerns raised by guests.”
A G4S spokesperson said she was unable to comment on the shouting security guards as the company had not received a complaint about the claim.
But she said in a statement: “Our priority is the safety and wellbeing of those on site and both staff and quarantined travellers are expected to adhere to social distancing rules in place for their safety, which include allocated slots allowing guests to safely access outdoor areas.
“A medical professional is available on site to make further recommendations and adjustments.”
A Radisson spokesperson said she could not comment on individual cases.
But she said the company took its role in the quarantine programme “very seriously” and worked with DHSC to provide a service “based on the parameters set by the government”.
She said that, when possible, the hotel provides “bigger rooms for guests who, based on identified medical needs, need more space to exercise”, and that the food menus are “revised on a weekly basis” and where possible “we implement our guests’ feedback on the menus to ensure it is satisfactory for all our guests”.
She added: “Our team is working in partnership with the UK government-contracted security staff at the hotel.
“The security team manage all guest movements at the property to help keep them safe and secure.
“A team of DHSC-contracted risk management professionals, including a DHSC medical professional, is also present on a 24-hour basis at the hotel, is able to provide an initial assessment of any risks or mental or physical health needs related to the quarantine guests and has an escalation process in place.
“We continuously take all feedback from guests on board to help continue to meet the standard of service in our property whilst complying with the requirements set by the DHSC.”
*Not her real name
**For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
Picture: One of her meals, and the Radisson car park where Julia and other passengers were allowed to exercise
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