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Garbage in, garbage out



D’you know what? I passed my driving test first time.

Yeah. You can call me smug if you like. Twelve lessons in a beat up Ford, one test booking, nailed it. Of course, people who only passed at, say, the seventh attempt will drone on and on about how all the best drivers flunked their test.

Whatever. Put it this way: if you’ve failed to make the cut after half a dozen attempts then consider the possibility that you may have no natural aptitude behind the wheel. Take minicabs.

Which has nothing whatever to do with the announcement that graduates who fail assessments for entry into GP training are to be allowed to re-apply in the same year, rather than hanging around and wasting their time for twelve whole months getting more experience and a few more lessons under their belt before having another go.

If drivers who pass third time really are better, it might just be because they’ve had a prolonged period of training that compensated for their lack of innate ability.

There is no cause for alarm: the GPC assures us that the benchmark, the final assessment, will remain set steadfastly high; Health Education England asserts that there will be no drop in standards.

I don’t want to appear dismissive or cynical, but, seriously?

One or two candidates might have had an off day when it mattered, but the majority will have missed out on entry to GP training for the same reason I never played central midfield for Real Madrid – not being good enough.

But, as anybody who is involved in GP training will tell you, once you’re in the system it’s damned difficult to get thrown out.

I’ve seen a few brilliant GPs in training, some now referred to as ‘my partners’, but I’ve seen more than enough who were barely adequate and a couple of absolute shockers.

The ones where your reference would read, ‘I’d be delighted to see this young doctor in practice in Inverness, (or Truro, or Anglesey, or anywhere more than six hours drive from my family and friends…)’.

It would be outrageous to suggest that this was a politically-driven move, designed to pander to Daily Mail readers and artificially boost GP recruitment figures at a time of crisis. But, hey, that’s what I do, so that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.

And it will backfire like a hippo after a baked bean vindaloo.

GP training is like any other black box system, with one input and one output, and as such the GI-GO rule applies: Garbage In, Garbage Out. You can rub as hard as you like, but there are some things in life that you just can’t polish.

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