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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