FOR readers unacquainted with the Covid face-covering fiasco, there is ample evidence of the bizarre governmental twists and turns on the issue of whether they are needed or not.
Curiously, on July 24, 2020, face coverings became mandatory in all public premises in England, once the Gompertz growth pattern curve had already been flattened.
From March 2020, I started to follow with interest Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens and his musings on the whole lockdown debate.
Mr Hitchens refuses to wear a muzzle (his words) and during the summer was consequently denied entry to his local NHS blood donation clinic. He decided to travel to Wales to give blood – as masks had not yet been mandated here – and wrote a thought-provoking article on the matter.
At this time, the Welsh Blood Service was not allowing face coverings for reasons of safety; that is, masks might hamper the ability of the staff to notice whether a donor may be about to faint, for example.
This ruling changed on September 11,when face coverings became compulsory in Wales. Not to be outdone, firstly by Nicola Sturgeon and then Boris Johnson, Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford also mandated this previously ‘unnecessary’ safety diktat.
Following childhood trauma – I have a letter from my GP – I am unable to wear any sort of face covering without distress, much as I am reticent to admit. I feel unsettled and short of breath just seeing others wearing masks.
My exemption fuelled my interest in the whole issue surrounding mask efficacy and led to a determination to learn factually what I can for myself, outside of mainstream and social media.
Curiously, UK governments and media have largely ignored the 2020 Danish Randomised Controlled Trial into the effectiveness of masks, the outcome of which is succinctly explained here, by an independent and non-partisan research group.
At the end of September, I received my regular invite to book an appointment at my local blood donation clinic and – like Mr Hitchens – was disappointed to learn that if I could not wear a mask, I could not donate.
A formal complaint ensued and after a lengthy wait I received an apology in early December from Welsh Blood. It informed me that it would now align its service to the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, which states that it is unlawful to deny entry or service to those with disabilities, including hidden disabilities. A small victory!
I wrote a letter to my local paper to inform other mask-exempt people of this fact, having been a regular blood donor for over 25 years and a proponent of this worthwhile public service.
Coincidentally on Christmas Eve, the day after publication of my letter, I received a further email informing me that, due to new virus variants, Public Health Wales had advised that no exceptions would now be made to the mask rule.
Subsequently the Public Services Ombudsman felt unable to take on my appeal – after consideration – and so several Freedom of Information Requests ensued.
The first was to PHW, to ask for evidence of the new virus variants which had informed Welsh Blood’s U-turn; the second was to ask PHW for clinical guidance given to all staff involved in vaccine administration, in respect of mask-exempt patients.
After all, if unmasked people are so dangerous to public blood donation centres, then surely this must apply to vaccination centres also?
Interestingly, on the twentieth working day after my first Freedom of Information request – the legal time limit by which a response must be forthcoming – I received an apology from PHW over the time taken to reply. It hoped to have an answer for me shortly, it said. This was over three weeks ago and my recent prompt has also gone unanswered.
In respect of my vaccine request, I have now seen the clinical guidance and this states that mask-exempt patients are indeed welcome! A link was included.
In my experience, the process of donating blood does not take long; usually around 30 to 40 minutes. NHS England has introduced safety measures, so less time need be spent at its clinics. Similarly, Welsh Blood has amended its safety procedures so the process is shorter.
Like the blood donation session, the Covid vaccination process takes around 30-45 minutes, according to the NHS website. This includes form-filling and a 15-minute wait afterwards in case of serious allergic reaction. Amazingly, NHS England also welcomes mask-exempt patients for the vaccine!
Welsh Blood is now considering my new complaint, in light of this new evidence presented to it from PHW’s evasive response. In the meantime, if Matt Hancock or Vaughan Gething – the Welsh Government cabinet member for health – read this, I would dearly love a simple answer to two simple questions.
Why can I receive my vaccine unmasked, but nonsensically still not donate blood without a mask especially if it is so critical to help save the NHS? And why did Public Health Wales evade my virus variant question …?