Patient complaint against Walkinstown GP over face mask letter

Medical Council dealing with grievance by woman with long public transport commute

The GP said he felt the patient did not meet the requirements to be exempt from wearing face coverings. File photograph: Getty

The GP said he felt the patient did not meet the requirements to be exempt from wearing face coverings. File photograph: Getty


A doctor has been subject to a Medical Council complaint after refusing to provide a letter excusing a patient from wearing a face mask in mandatory settings, such as on public transport or in shops.

Dr William Behan, a GP based in Walkinstown, southwest Dublin, said in his clinical experience the woman did not meet the criteria to be exempt from mandatory requirements to wear face coverings.

People with autism, sensory issues, mental illness or some physical disabilities are exempt from the requirements, as are children under the age of 13. The requirements were introduced by the Government in recent months to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Individuals can be permitted on public transport, and into shops and other indoor public settings without a mask with a letter from a GP outlining that they are unable to wear a face covering.

Dr Behan said about two months ago a patient requested a letter excusing her from wearing face coverings, following a long consultation about a separate matter.

The woman told him “I don’t want to wear a face mask” as she regularly had a long commute on public transport, Dr Behan said.

After discussing the matter with the woman the GP said he felt she did not meet the requirements to be exempt from wearing face coverings. “I felt she didn’t fulfil the criteria,” he said.

The woman then raised the matter with the local Health Service Executive office, who contacted the GP. “They obviously wanted me to give her a letter. In my clinical experience I thought she didn’t warrant it,” Dr Behan told The Irish Times.

The HSE office responded to the woman to say it was “going round in circles” speaking to the GP, and suggested she could complain to the Medical Council over the matter, said Dr Behan.

The Medical Council is responsible for regulating doctors and has the power to conduct fitness to practice inquiries into complaints.

In recent weeks the GP received a letter from the council outlining a complaint had been made against him. Dr Behan said GPs countrywide were already “massively burdened” with additional workloads due to Covid-19. He said he took “several hours” to draft a detailed response to the council.

‘Trivial complaints’

Dealing with the regulator can be “stressful”, he said, adding he was “disappointed” with the approach the local HSE office had taken on the matter.

Dr Behan said he expects to hear from the council in the coming weeks and is hopeful the matter would be settled. “The Medical Council is generally good for dealing with trivial complaints,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said if a person is unhappy with their clinical advice “they should bring this to the attention of the medical professional in the first instance. If the person cannot resolve their clinical complaint with the medical professional involved, then they will have to raise the complaint with the relevant governing agency.”

A spokesman for the Medical Council said it could not comment on individual cases and is obliged to investigate all complaints it receives.

When a complaint is made it is handled by the council’s preliminary proceedings committee who decide if it requires further action by the regulator.