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Smear training’s not the problem – it’s everything else

I’m so not annoyed by this story about GPs being forced to take ‘patronising’ smear training. Yes, that’s right. Not annoyed. Unperturbed. Chilled. Why, I reacted with barely a curled lip.

Whereas, a few years ago, I’d have felt so furiously degraded that I’d have ranted, raved and inserted the nearest speculum in the nearest PCT person’s nearest orifice, which might or might not have been the one for which it was intended. I know, because that’s what I did. The point being, we’ve already been through this down Essex way a few years ago, hence a minor thrill of déjà vu rather than an out-and-out strop when I read the story.

And when we were told we’d have to undergo a day’s training – per year, if I remember correctly – to ensure we could do what we’d been doing perfectly well for years, and which is a basic part of GP work, we decided, after our initial rant, to take a perfectly rational decision. We’d simply stop doing smears.

That is, most of us in the practice would, as we couldn’t justify or stomach the time and hassle involved in these pointless, imposed ‘updates’. Result: all smears in the practice are now taken by the nurses or just a couple of ‘approved’ doctors.

On the one hand, I can’t honestly say I’ve missed probing around in areas that are darker, damper and scarier than, say, the back-alleys of Basildon on a Saturday night. And on the other, it really has taken me those all these years to be not that annoyed about it. It smacks so much of bumptious officialdom having no idea about our basic training, inherent professionalism and loathing of role deconstructionism that, having conjured up those memories, I’m now feeling rather less relaxed than I was when I started writing this blog.

Besides, there are other areas where we really do need training. Like communicating rationing decisions to patients without getting blood on the carpet. And finding locums when most are booked up covering commissioning meetings. And accountancy – not because I’m starting to take my budgetary responsibilities seriously.

It’s just starting to look like an attractive career switch.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex