A NORTH Somerset GP practice has been fined almost £1,000 after separating a man from his assistance dog.

The man, known as Mr U, arrived at the GP practice for his second Covid jab on May 7, 2021, but staff separated him from his assistance dog before allowing him to enter, leaving him feeling humiliated and emotionally distressed.

Now, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has told the practice to pay Mr U £950.

Assistance dogs are trained and qualified to assist people with a specific disability.

People with an assistance dog have a legal right to have them with them, even in spaces where other dogs are not allowed.

Mr U arrived at the practice for his vaccination with his assistance dog tied to his wheelchair, an ombudsman report published on December 19 said.

Mr U said practice staff called for their manager after he said the dog was a qualified assistance dog who he was going to take in with him, and the manager then “inappropriately” questioned him about how the dog provided assistance in full view of other members of the public.

Mr U said he did not have the opportunity to explain his legal right and felt he had no choice but to give in.

Practice staff then removed his dog’s lead from the wheelchair without asking and walked him to the door with the lead in the manager’s hand.

Mr U said: “I felt my dog was being confiscated.”

The practice manager said the dog did not have a recognisable assistance dog lead, but Mr U said its uniform was hooked on his wheelchair and it had a Canine Partners tag on its lead, which qualifies assistance dogs.

The practice said the decision to separate Mr U and his dog was made in the “perceived best interests” for his safety and access, and said it was “snap decision taken in the midst of an extremely busy Covid vaccination clinic”.

The situation left Mr U feeling betrayed and helpless, and he said his mental health got worse.

In its findings, the ombudsman said: “We accept that the practice says this incident was caused by miscommunication and it did not intentionally discriminate against Mr U.

“But the practice manager was the person in charge that day.

“They knew Mr U was a vulnerable, disabled person and once he explained his dog was an assistance dog, he should have been free to access the building like the rest of the patients that day.

“We accept that Mr U’s communication may not have been clear and he may have seemed to hand the dog over without much objection.

“But, given he is a vulnerable patient, we think it was the practice manager’s responsibility to understand what was going on in this situation. 

“They recognised that Mr U would rather keep the dog with him and we think they missed an opportunity to explore this further and give Mr U a chance to explain himself.”

As well as the £950 fine, the ombudsman also ordered the practice to write to Mr U to acknowledge its mistakes and apologise for their impact.

It also ordered the clinical commissioning group running GP practices in the area (now the Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board) to write to Mr U to apologise for distress caused by its “poor complaint handling”.