Employment lawyer Jo Mackie (pictured), 50, is taking legal action against Center Parcs after being refused a manicure and massage because she had had breast cancer
Spas across Britain could be breaking the law by turning cancer patients away, it was claimed yesterday.
Employment lawyer Jo Mackie, 50, is taking legal action against Center Parcs after being refused a manicure and massage because she had had breast cancer.
The solicitor instructed to represent her is investigating whether spas could be in breach of the Equality Act for using ‘blanket rules’ to discriminate against cancer patients or those who have had the disease.
Scores of people contacted the Mail yesterday after this paper reported how up to 70 per cent of British spas could be turning cancer patients away – despite medics saying the practice was based on ‘junk science’.
Mrs Mackie, a mother of one from south London, went to Center Parcs at Longleat in Wiltshire to celebrate her 50th birthday with friends. But despite having already told staff of her medical history, once there she was told she could not be treated.
She said: ‘I was turned away when I ticked their little box which said, ‘Have you had cancer in the last two years?’. I said, ‘This is ridiculous’, they said, ‘Really sorry, we are not trained to treat people with cancer’.’
Mrs Mackie, a mother of one from south London, went to Center Parcs at Longleat in Wiltshire (pictured) to celebrate her 50th birthday with friends
Francesca Manzi (pictured), from Northamptonshire, was given a gift voucher for a spa by friends but told she couldn’t use it because she was recovering from breast cancer
When the onsite nurse allegedly told the spa manager there was no medical reason to turn Mrs Mackie away, the spa still refused.
Mrs Mackie said: ‘I came home early, took it from there and I’m suing them.’
Center Parcs last night said the Longleat spa had changed its policy. But Mrs Mackie is determined to prevent others suffering the same indignity.
She added: ‘I would love it if other people with cancer would join this and fight this discrimination.
‘It’s not about money, it’s about the principle. I won’t be discriminated against because I had breast cancer.’
I burst into tears… all I’d wanted was to feel normal
Katy Norton was inconsolable when a Center Parcs spa refused to treat her because she’d had surgery to remove a growth.
Miss Norton, 32, from Surbiton, south-west London, had a tumour on her thyroid gland cut out and was enjoying a weekend away with her family at the spa in Woburn Forest, near Bedford.
Katy Norton (pictured) was denied treatment after Center Parcs discovered she had had a tumour on her thyroid gland cut out
After the operation last August, Miss Norton was told she was clear of the disease and the cancer had not spread.
But when she revealed details of her medical history, she was told she would not be able to have any treatments with her family.
She said: ‘I had the operation on August 12, the visit was for my mother’s birthday on September 28. My dad booked us all for massages. My stitches were out, it was pretty much healed – you could hardly see it. I said, ‘Is there nothing you can do?’. I remember bursting into tears. All I wanted was to feel normal… pampered.’
Miss Norton said she was surprised to be turned away for a simple massage because her surgeon had been ‘blasé’ about her condition and said she could return to normal life.
She added: ‘I was so upset, I was inconsolable. I just thought they were being really overly protective of themselves.’
Center Parcs said: ‘We are sorry to hear of Katy’s experience. Since Katy’s visit, we have introduced a range of treatments suitable for guests who have undergone treatment for cancer.’
Anna Mazzola, the solicitor leading the case, said spas that refuse treatment to customers because they have – or have had – cancer may commit unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
She added: ‘These spas seem to be treating cancer patients and former patients worse than other people in a similar situation. They are directly discriminating against them.’
Mrs Mazzola said that a company can only justify discrimination if it can provide a proper explanation, adding: ‘From what we can work out, there is no medical justification for applying this blanket policy of refusing treatment. It’s having a terrible impact.’
Christine MacGregor, 61, is among those who wrote to the Mail about their experiences.
Center Parcs last night said the Longleat spa had changed its policy
Mrs Mackie is determined to prevent others suffering the same indignity. Pictured: An advert for treatments on the Center Parcs website
Mrs MacGregor was turned away from a Marriott hotel in Glasgow after chemotherapy for breast cancer.
She said: ‘The reason given was that the oils they use can seep into the body and interfere with treatment. I said, ‘That’s absolute nonsense’. At this point I was completely bald, felt bad about myself… my daughter thought it would be a nice treat.
‘It’s hard enough. You have the fear of ‘Will I survive?’, you feel a lack of femininity – then they make you feel worse.’
Another woman, who was turned away by a spa more than a decade ago after having throat cancer, said: ‘I have carried the stigma and humiliation since 2004. I have never forgotten this one episode.’
They ruined my birthday treat
Francesca Manzi was given a voucher for a luxury spa near her home as a 50th birthday present by friends who had clubbed together.
But when the business development manager from Northamptonshire, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2014, tried to use it, she was turned away.
Miss Manzi, who is now 53, said: ‘I said I’d like a facial or a manicure. They said, ‘No, we don’t treat anybody until they’ve been clear for two years.’ I was really looking forward to it. I thought my friends have clubbed together and I’ve lost it.’
At the time, Miss Manzi was receiving free holistic therapy treatments at a local charity.
She said: ‘With chemotherapy, you look the worst you are ever going to look in your life. You are feeling low and ugly.
‘Having treatments make you feel better. I’m not saying they cure cancer but they help your mental attitude, and staying positive is what it is all about.’
Sharon Leeson, 55, from Upminster, Essex, felt the same lasting shame. Three years after the rejection, she has never returned to a spa.
Mrs Leeson, a former beauty therapist, wrote: ‘It wasn’t until I was on the couch with a towel over me that someone came in to say they could not give me a massage until I had been cancer free for five years or show a letter from my GP.’
A beauty salon owner from Hampshire who has worked in the industry for 45 years said therapists turned patients away because they feared making conditions worse.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said: ‘One of my clients became a friend and after chemotherapy I would have given anything to give her some treatments. But there was always that fear that, should her cancer return, she would blame me or, even worse, take legal action.’
The charity Breast Cancer Care called for more understanding. Senior clinical nurse specialist Rachel Rawson said: ‘There is no evidence to support the myth that massages spread cancer. However, it’s important to seek medical advice before planning a spa visit and check with the spa.’
Center Parcs said: ‘We are sorry to hear about the experience Jo received. We have a range of treatments for guests who have had treatment for cancer, which are delivered by specially trained therapists.’