A HAIRDRESSER who makes wigs for cancer patients has had his NHS contract axed – because his salon has stairs.
Douglas Barr was awarded the contract just 11 months ago to provide hairpieces to people suffering cancer, alopecia and other conditions that made them bald.
Despite offering the service on a non-profit basis, health bosses decided the stairs to his award-winning salon discriminate against the disabled and ripped up the contract.
The move by NHS Fife, which means Douglas’s patients in the Dunfermline area will be forced to travel further to get treatment, has been branded “disgraceful” by cancer patients.
Douglas, director of Sheds Hairdressing, helped more than 200 people with hair loss over the past 10 months.
But last week NHS Fife decided his salon did not meet their disabled access criteria because of its first-floor location of its consulting room.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and Fife MSP Willie Rennie has now taken up Sheds’ cause and is writing to the health secretary over the issue.
Mr Barr’s clients are also furious other patients will have to travel further for wigs and hairpieces, and patients’ groups slated the decision.
Douglas said: “I am disappointed, angry and very frustrated that as of the first of June my salon will no longer be able to supply and personalise hair pieces through NHS referrals.
“I was told that my salon was not disabled-friendly because of the stairs to the first floor where private consultations take place.
“When appointments are made we are at pains to clarify if clients are able to make it up our stairs.
“Anyone that is infirm or disabled we have always arranged home, hospital or hospice visits.”
He continued: “Bearing in mind we’ve done this for a year, why has it not been an issue before?
“You’d think that common sense would prevail but I don’t think bureaucracy allows for common sense.
“I’m angry because we can no longer provide a service which we are dedicated to.
“I get paid for every piece I fit but it was never a business venture – I never wanted it to be because it’s making money off people’s misfortune.”
Douglas said installing a stairlift would cost thousands of pounds and moving elsewhere was not viable.
He said: “The NHS say it’s out of their hands and it’s an EU initiative.
“We’re looking to continue the service, especially for long terms wearers of hairpieces who suffer from alopecia.”
Sheds is also part of the My New Hair charity, which provides wig styling for those who have lost hair for medical reasons.
Douglas was inspired to join the charity after losing his mother Mollie to cancer five years ago, and said the NHS’ decision came “totally out of the blue.”
Douglas said: “People have said it’s a disgrace and they can’t believe the red tape.
“We’re the only ones doing this in Fife and they’ve been so happy with the service, but they’ll now have to go into Edinburgh or anyone else who gets the contract.
“Very few salons are experienced in cutting hair pieces and a lot of people have been asking if I would still cut them – and they’re willing to pay.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rannie said: “It seems to me to be illogical.
“I’ve had a lot of messages from customers who can’t understand why they’re taking such a belligerent attitude.
“I think it’s an official being overzealous. The NHS can’t quote the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to support them because Sheds are DDA compliant – they offer home visits.
“They should review and reverse the decision.”
In his letter to health secretary Alex Neil, he says: “[my constituent] explained that it’s not unusual for people who have lost their hair to feel angry and depressed and worry about how their friends and family see them.
“She said that Sheds offer a vital service to people within Fife, and she is extremely concerned that this will leave a huge gap in provision of these services.”
Furious customers vented their anger about the NHS’s decision on Facebook.
Grace Murray, who uses wigs from the salon, said: “I was very upset when you told me of the government’s latest revelation!!
“I cannot believe they want to take this service away.
“As you know I have suffered from alopecia for 10 years now and although I have only fairly recently come to you, I have never felt as confident with anyone.
“It is more than just a case of supplying us with the wigs we need, it is the whole experience.
“Do they not realise the expertise you have in this area? They will be hard pushed to find anyone who can give what you give, not only in Fife but the whole of Scotland.”
Gillian Lindsay wrote: “When I was diagnosed with cancer at the end of last year you made the process of getting a wig totally stress free.
“Having a service like this in Dunfermline is great – aside from the treatment itself we have little else. All the cancer support services such as Maggie’s are Kirkcaldy or Edinburgh.”
Kelly Richards wrote: “I am saddened that others going through the same situation as me are going to miss out on this great service provided at sheds.
“Although I can’t fault the NHS for the treatment I have received so far, I do feel shame on the person who made this disgraceful decision without obviously contacting anyone who had actually used the service!”
David Leung, of campaign group Fife Patients, said: “It’s either a really difficult health and safety rule or a way to save money – but it wouldn’t save that much money.
“It just smacks of a lack of common sense. It’s not a trivial matter, these things are important to patients.
“Being able to get out and about and exercise is all part of the recovery process.”
NHS Fife director of finance Chris Bowring said: “NHS Fife follows a procurement process when tendering for services.
“Those who are supplying services must meet specific criteria.
“After reviewing our wig service some existing contracts have not been renewed.”