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Call off the Mumsnet vigilantes – we were doing our best

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