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GPC warning on ‘incompetent’ cervical smear tests

Practices are leaving themselves open to legal action because GPs are carrying out cervical smear tests without ‘visualising the cervix', the GPC has claimed.

The GPC's latest newsletter advises GPs to ensure they are aware of the latest guidance in conducting smears, after a row over mandatory training on cervical cytology.

Last year the GPC complained GPs were being forced to undergo ‘patronising' and ‘unnecessary' cervical smear training, and in January the Department of Health wrote to PCTs instructing them not to make such training mandatory.

But in its March newsletter, the GPC warned: ‘Following the recent letter from Barbara Hakin regarding mandatory cervical cytology training, we would still advise practices to make sure that anyone conducting smears are cognisant of the latest guidance. We have had some reports of smears being carried out without the cervix being visualised; this is not good practice and leaves practices open to legal action.'

Dr Bill Beeby, chair of the GPC clinical prescribing subcommittee and a GP in Middlesbrough, said: ‘The letter from Barbara Hakin at the DH was about PCTs micro-managing GP training and insisting on one-size-fits-all training. What it does not do is remove from GPs the responsibility to ensure they and their staff are competent and professional to protect patient safety.'

‘If someone cannot visualise the cervix when taking a smear test they are either incompetent, or they have a difficult case, in which case the patient should be referred.'

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