A disabled woman who is at significant risk from COVID-19 was told to visit her local GP surgery in person – and pay £18 – to pick up a letter that she can use to show supermarkets she is shielding from the virus.
Rowan Graham, who is registered blind and has long-term conditions that put her at higher risk from the virus, was told by the surgery that the letter could not be emailed to her and that she would need to pick it up in person, even though she and her husband are shielding from the virus.
She was then told that she could not collect the letter – which shows she is entitled to shielding services – unless she visited the surgery to pay for it in person.
Graham (pictured) fears that many other disabled people could be in the same position and would not be able to afford to pay for a letter from their surgery.
She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I have no one in my household to take me [to the surgery] and no way to get there without putting myself at risk.
“It doesn’t cost £18 to send a letter, but my real problem is that they won’t release it without me going and paying for it personally.
“If there are others out there this is happening to, then it needs to stop.”
Although her husband already has a shielding letter – because he is blind and is shielding to protect her – and she had one from early in the pandemic in April, she believes she needs the new letter in case she is questioned about her need for a home shopping delivery or other vital services.
She is not seen as clinically extremely vulnerable to the virus, but she is in the group of those who can be put forward for shielding help by their GP.
The surgery at one point agreed to email the letter to her but then retracted the offer when she said she could not visit the surgery, and it refused to email it until she paid the £18 fee.
She stressed that she did not blame individuals at the Bramblehaies Surgery in Cullompton, Devon, who she said had provided her with excellent medical support, but that she was extremely concerned about the practice’s failure to make reasonable adjustments for her.
She said: “Some days I can barely walk at the moment and so I won’t be able to do the hour round trip on foot.
“I am frightened about taking a taxi and need some convincing it is a safe thing to do.
“COVID is hitting close to home now and I catch things easily – once caught, it can take me a long time to get over things.
“This isn’t about the money; I just would like the security of having that letter. I feel that I am in a precarious position without it.”
After DNS contacted NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to raise her concerns, the surgery launched an investigation, and yesterday (Wednesday) emailed the shielding letter to her and told her: “On this occasion we are providing it without charge.”
The surgery told DNS it was unable to comment because of patient confidentiality.
A spokesperson for the CCG declined to comment on the surgery asking Graham to attend in person to collect the letter.
But a spokesperson said: “There is no charge for letters to patients who are on the shielded list.
“Where patients are not on the shielded list but request a letter from their GP to describe their specific circumstances, it is up to individual practices to determine their approach to charges.
“We understand the practice has reviewed the specific circumstances of this case and has emailed the requested letter to the patient free of charge.”
Early in the pandemic, Graham and her husband, who is blind, secured thousands of signatures for a petition in which they called for more support with shopping for disabled people who had been forgotten in the government’s emergency COVID-19 measures.
They raised concerns then that it had become impossible to order food online from supermarkets because all the delivery slots were permanently booked, and they were left relying on the kindness of friends.
Picture by Alan Bates
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