Portsmouth man born without ears denied Covid-19 test as he can't wear a standard mask

A MAN born without ears was denied a Covid-19 test as he cannot wear a standard surgical mask.

By Richard Lemmer
Thursday, 21st January 2021, 11:06 am
Updated Thursday, 21st January 2021, 11:38 am

After experiencing Covid-like symptoms last Wednesday, Stamshaw resident Fred Ayres booked a test at the Cosham walkthrough centre at 4pm that afternoon.

But when he arrived, staff at the centre told him he couldn’t enter– as he cannot wear a mask that loops around the wearer’s ears.

This is because the 58-year-old’s ears never fully developed, following his mother taking the drug Thalidomide. The sedative, used for morning sickness, caused thousands of babies to be born with disabilities.

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Fred Ayres, 58, from Stamshaw, whose ears have been left underdeveloped cannot wear the most common form of mask which loops around the wearer's ears. Picture: Sarah Standing (190121-869)

Fred has been improvising by wearing an elasticated bandanna slipped over his head, but management at the centre said it wasn’t an appropriate face-covering.

Fred said: ‘I went into the walk-in centre, put my mask on, went in there and they told me I had to wear (a mask fastened around the ears).

‘I explained I couldn’t put it on my ears.’

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Fred Ayres, 58, from Stamshaw, whose ears have been left underdeveloped cannot wear the most common form of mask which loops around the wearer's ears. Picture: Sarah Standing (190121-903)

Fred suggested holding another mask in place with his hand or a face-covering: ‘So they radioed through to their management, who said I couldn’t do it.

‘I said “if you bring the test out to me, I could do it that way” – but they said no.

‘They said go online and a get a test that way.’

Staff acknowledged his condition and apologised for the rules, but Fred was left baffled – and hurt – by the situation.

Fred Ayres, 58, from Stamshaw, whose ears have been left underdeveloped cannot wear the most common form of mask which loops around the wearer's ears. Picture: Sarah Standing (190121-907)

He said: ‘I couldn’t understand because when you go into the test centre, you take your mask off anyway.

‘I was a bit upset.’

The Gruneisen Road resident said no one else has objected to his face-covering during the pandemic.

His family has described his treatment as ‘disgusting,’ and now the grandfather-of-eight wants to highlight the issue to ensure no one else faces a similar experience.

He said: ‘I don’t want other people to go through this.

‘I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble.’

A spokesman from Sodexo, the company that staffs and runs the test centre, has now apologised for Fred’s treatment.

He said: ‘We apologise for the inconvenience we caused this gentleman.

‘His face covering was adequate protection for using the site.

‘We have reviewed our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.’

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care, which oversees testing centres across the country, said it does not comment on individual cases.

Its guidelines say people who are exempt from wearing a face covering are not eligible to be tested at walkthrough testing sites.

Fred’s experience is an example of how disabled people and their needs have been ‘routinely forgotten throughout the pandemic’, said Alison Kerry, from disability charity Scope.

She said: ‘Scope’s free Helpline has been hearing from many disabled people who despite being exempt from wearing a face covering, are experiencing difficulties when they are in public such as being refused entry to shops or places of work.’

Fred has since taken a home test and has received a negative result.

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