Practices are being advised by a medical defence body to review their no-dogs policies, in order to recognise the role played by assistance dogs.
The MDU said that equality and discrimination laws mean that adjustments should be made, within reason, to ensure that patients who need assistance dogs are able to access treatment facilities.
While most assistance dogs support with visuals and hearing, they can help patients with a broad spectrum of conditions.
MDU medicolegal adviser Dr Ellie Mein said: ‘According to Assistance Dogs UK, over 7,000 disabled people in the UK rely on an assistance dog to help with practical tasks – offering emotional support and independence.
‘One of those tasks may be to support a patient when attending a medical appointment, so it’s important for our members to know how to deal with such a scenario. While the term “assistance dog” most commonly refers to guide or hearing dogs, it can also mean service dogs for those with other conditions. While many dogs receive specific training some assistance dogs can be owner selected and trained.
‘If a staff member is allergic to dogs or has a phobia, then the practice should take reasonable steps to minimise that individual’s exposure to assistance dogs. However, neither are valid reasons for denying an assistance dog entry to the practice.’
Writing in the MDU journal, the organisation shared the case of an anonymous practice who sought advice after a patient’s assistance dog jumped at a healthcare assistant who was afraid of dogs.
It continued that healthcare professionals have a legal duty to do all they can to enable disabled patients access their services, as well as treating the individuals fairly.
Previously, the Equality and Human Rights Commission produced a guide for businesses on assistance dogs, while the charity Guide Dogsexplains: ‘There may be areas within the health facility where a guide dog may not be permitted due to infection control or health and safety issues,’ in which case alternative support will be required for the patient, and a suitable location found for the assistance dog to be left safely.
A BMA survey earlier this year found that half of GP practices aren’t fit for purpose, and highlighted the need for improved access for disabled patients.
The Patients Association also released a report claiming that four in ten patients feel their GP practice is in a poor environment that makes them anxious or stressed. It also singled out issues with access for disabled people.
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.