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GPs go forth

I feel I am ideally placed to debunk the breast screening 'scandal'


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Wasn’t it great to experience a media medical shit-storm that didn’t bash GPs, nor describe us as ‘ideally placed’ to resolve it? So, as a GP, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole mammogram cock-up story.

And, if coming from a male doctor, that sounds a) Sexist and b) Doctor-centred, I’d say, a) Look, I have man boobs yet I’ve never ever received an invite for a mammogram so who’s actually being discriminated against here? and b) Yeah, what about it?

But it wasn’t all good. Because the legacy of this latest screening debacle will not highlight, as it should, that screening is a highly imperfect activity, even if those imperfections are usually more nuanced than simply not sending out the sodding invites.

Quite the opposite. Such is the hysteria around the story that the message the public hears is that screening, already an absurdly over-valued idea, is a matter of life and death.

What’s needed is not a hotline but a sense of perspective

After all, we’ve had theTimes wailing that, ‘Hundreds of thousands of women face an agonising wait’, the Mail handwringing that, ‘They didn’t deserve to lose their lives’ and the Sun unimaginatively echoing this with ‘They didn’t need to die’.

Fair enough, but if we’re going to polarise the point, how about, ‘Countless women accidentally saved from anxiety and unnecessary biopsies’, just for balance, the problem being that this constituency is as silent as those who have truly suffered, albeit for a different reason.

The stark truth is that the chances of any one individual suffering harm as a direct consequence of missing one mammogram invitation is tiny and what’s needed is not a hotline but a sense of perspective. It could be said that GPs are ideally placed to explain this, so I will.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex


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Readers' comments (6)

  • Well said. A sense of perspective which the NHS does not have looking at their knee jerk response.

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  • Mr Hunt seems to want to paint himself as the saviour/ good guy by raising this in parliament. What an opportunist!

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  • David Banner

    If the PSA screening lobby get their way then we really are doomed.

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  • To Err is Human!
    To Really Foul Things Up in Screening You Need a Computer
    As noted I trust PSA lobby does Not React!

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  • I am from the PSA lobby. I think its a bit sexist that women get cervical and breast wcreening. We should get PSA and testicular exam screening to even it all up.

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  • I'm stunned to read that anyone clinical would recommend a PSA test in asymptomatic men.

    Prostate Cancer - What to do with the Pussycats? 2008 CMO would be a good source of realism.

    Please Merlin, tell me you are joking?

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