Hospital apologises after member of staff insults trans woman dressed as Mrs Santa

‘Life is difficult enough when you are transitioning,’ says Chantelle Saunders

Zamira Rahim@ZamiraRahim
Monday 08 April 2019 11:57
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Chantelle Saunders was left upset after an interaction with a staff member
Chantelle Saunders was left upset after an interaction with a staff member

A hospital has apologised to a transgender woman after she was insulted by comments made by a member of staff during a ward visit while she was dressed as Santa Claus’ wife.

Chantelle Saunders said she was left “very, very upset” by the way she was treated by an employee at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital on Christmas Eve 2018.

The 34-year-old was visiting a friend in the hospital, while dressed in a festive outfit.

A nurse said “er...it’s a man” when Ms Saunders walked into her friend’s cubicle.

“I was very, very upset. I’m a transgender woman – transitioning from male to female,” she said.

“I went to visit my friend in hospital on Christmas Eve.”

“She was in having an operation and there was a nurse in the cubicle. I said ‘Happy Christmas’ and the nurse replied ‘Er...it’s a man’.”

“I said ‘No I’m a transgender woman’ and she said ‘errgh’.”

Ms Saunders complained to the NHS Patient Advice and Liaison Service and received a reply from the assistant head of nursing who apologised for the nurse saying “Happy Christmas Sir”.

“But I appealed and made another complaint about that because they didn’t speak to me or speak to my two witnesses,” she added.

“Now I have had a letter back from the deputy chief executive/chief nurse which basically says that the nurse involved has no recollection of making the comment – but again they never spoke to my two witnesses.”

The 34-year-old said she was particularly upset by the hospital’s reference to her appearance in the letter.

“[The letter] says ‘However when a person is visited we are advised to address the person as they are seen.

“In your case I understand you had a full beard and were dressed in male attire’.”

“I am always dressed as a woman,” Ms Saunders said. “ I had full make-up. I had my hair on. I am on female hormones and do not have a beard.

“Even my passport shows that I am female. This second letter is even worse than the first.

“Life is difficult enough when you are transitioning.” she added.

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“We are always sorry to hear when a patient or visitor is unhappy with their experience at the RD&E,” Em Wilkinson-Brice, deputy chief executive of the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, said.

“In this case we have investigated the complaint and apologised for any offence caused. We are keen to speak with Ms Saunders to explore how we can resolve any remaining issues she has.”

Ms Wilkinson-Brice added that all staff at the hospital “undergo equality and diversity training as standard”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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