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Call off the Mumsnet vigilantes - we were doing our best

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As a rule I tend to avoid Mumsnet. If it fulfils a role at all (and that’s debatable), it serves as a way of warning the rest of the world that there are lunatics at large and that some of them have fibre optic broadband accounts. It gets me hankering for the old days when the village idiot would remain virtually unknown outside his neighbourhood, right up until the day when the Clapham omnibus went into service and the phrase ‘Nutter on the bus’ entered the lexicon.

In the wake of the Jimmy Savile affair and the re-popularisation of victimhood women have started threads on Mumsnet along the lines of ‘I was abused by my GP’. Not the usual complaints about being told off for misusing the emergency clinic system, or being asked to spend something at Poundshop rather than taking up an appointment: this is proper grease-seeking squeaky wheel victimhood. The women in question started taking the contraceptive pill in the 1970s and 80s and were ‘groped’ by their pervy GP. Or, to put it another way, they had an entirely routine pelvic examination.

Somewhere up in my loft is a copy of a 1980s textbook about contraception. I still have it because it was signed by the author and presented to me at the end of my family planning training in a centre of excellence not far from Soho Square. He offered me a job too, which was nice. Proved that I’d been paying attention. One thing I learned was that every woman starting to take the Pill de novo would need a pelvic exam to rule out gynaecological abnormalities or a pre-existing pregnancy. If she was virgo intacta then the exam could be deferred until her second prescription, by which time it was assumed that she probably wouldn’t be.

TNBEs (totally necessary breast examinations) were performed as a routine too. So, for many a long afternoon in a windowless subterranean sweatbox I’d examine clients from the Groucho Club to the south, Fitzrovia to the north and all points in between.

Because - and I know it’s different now - that’s what we did. We wore shoulder pads and many of the clients had big hair too. The nice thing about medicine, as opposed to quackery, we have a policy of continual improvement. We check, we cross-check, we refine and we move on.

So what? An accusation like that, even a totally unfounded one, against a GP who might still be in practice is a hell of a thing to have to deal with. The knuckledraggers who couldn’t tell a paedophile from a paediatrician are still out there looking for trouble and I wouldn’t fancy being the doctor forced to confront a troupe of them in the car park because their Auntie Mabels had a pelvic exam in the 1970s.

We did routine pelvic exams in the 1970s and 1980s because, given the state of knowledge at that time, it was the Right Thing To Do. Now we know more and we’ve stopped. Call off the vigilantes before somebody gets hurt.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield

Readers' comments (7)

  • Oh dear - not mumsnet :). *sigh*. David Southall ran into problems there as did I. Not a wonderful place for anyone really :).


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  • I wasn't offered a pelvic exam a single time when I was on the pill in the 1970s and 1980s. Wouldn't have agreed to it either unless it was for a serious medical reason. Maybe these Mumsnet women are not so rabid after all.

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  • Not read the mumsnet threads, but can say that as teenagers during the early 1970's we all knew which GP was er... overenthusiastic - and should be avoided in favour of the busier FPA clinic. This was not always as a result of hearsay, abuse went on. Back in the early 1970's there was no internet to check up what was or was not acceptable practice. Parents had grown up in an era where the GP was regarded some sort of infallible God and they would not have given credibility to a girls concerns. Besides, many parents had morality issues about their teenage daughters going on the pill so girls did not feel able to discuss contraception or any sexually related concerns with them...unlikely the police would take the word of a teenage girl seriously even if one plucked up the courage to try and report anything. Apart from each other, there was nobody to tell. Victim profile sound familiar?

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  • Let common sense prevail

    I recall as a GP registar in the early 90's feeling guilty every time I prescribed the pill without performing the 'obligatory' pelvic and breast exams on healthy young women. I chose not to do so because
    1. I could not understand the purpose
    2. I thought it would put me at risk of being branded as a 'pervy GP'
    Sometimes it's good to know that your own opinions/decisions, whilst going against the current of mainstream teaching, prove to be reasonable and correct with the passage of time.
    These days I feel very similar about a number of NICE guidelines

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  • Actually quite an interesting read - I too used to feel guilty at times when not doing pelvic exams for the pill though did do so for HRT. I think the thread is actually quite balanced with clearly some GPs giving the medical side of things. Just had a chat to my receptionists about this who were quite shocked that internals were done for the pill - including a couple who are registered at the practice so clearly my old partners felt the same way as me!!
    A particular problem when I started was that there were no female GPs - there were none in the whole town! Pleased to say that more enlightened days are upon us and we have a goodly number of female colleagues and of course no longer do the antenatal care that we used.

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  • Myself and my school friends in the early 80'S quickly cottoned onto the fact you where examined before going on the pill. The female GP in the village Surgery had queues of us we even went in two's to see her!

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  • Sorry I'm a little late commenting on this topic. I'm American. My UK wife has told me of the multiple breast and internal exams she was subjected to by her GP late 70's and early 80's.

    She was reporting skin rashes, abdominal pain, sore breasts. Every time she visited the GP for 4 years she had to get up on his table and have his fingers inside her, and her breasts "examined", totally unchaperoned.

    She didn't know any better, and didn't tell her mother. Now many years later she is still troubled by addictive issues that stem directly from these events, although has made incredible progress.

    As a Medical Professional I've been able to tell her his actions were entirely inappropriate, and sexual abuse. As a husband it makes me furious that he got away with it, and continued to practice for many more years before retiring.

    As for medical issues, after many misdiagnoses, it turns out she has an auto-immune that was causing all her symptoms from an early age. If this GP hadn't been so busy not keeping his hands to himself, it might have been diagnosed 30 years earlier than it was. It's a travesty.

    In short, I do believe some of the Momsnet comments could be people misunderstanding what was simply the "norm" at the time. But a few are quite shocking.

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder