Few GPs use chaperones at intimate examinations

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First Edition

FEW women doctors, and a minority of male doctors, call in a 'surgery chaperone' before conducting an intimate examination of a patient, although all doctors are advised to do so by their medical defence organisations - and most patients like to be asked.

According to a survey of general practitioners in Norfolk, only 3per cent of women doctors said they ever used or offered chaperones compared with 35 per cent of male colleagues. A sixth of male doctors said they always used one.

Arie Speelman, formerly a trainee GP in Ludham, Norfolk, says in tomorrow's British Medical Journal that doctors mostly used chaperones to protect themselves when they feared litigation. Many said they used chaperones most frequently when examining young patients.

About 10 per cent said they used a chaperone when 'intuition' suggested it would be a good idea. Doctors did not ask for third parties to be present because it took too much time or they thought patients would not like it.

'The main reasons given for not using a chaperone were: too time-consuming; impractical; unnecessary and not beneficial to the doctor-patient relationship,' Dr Speelman says.

He found that most women doctors said they were comfortable about examining without a chaperone. 'Their comments generally suggested that they never thought it necessary to have a chaperone present. Some said it had never crossed their minds.'

But in an accompanying editorial Roger Jones, Professor of General Practice at the United Medical and Dental School, St Thomas's Hospital, London, says the offer of a chaperone is likely to be acceptable to most patients but accepted by a minority. 'Few patients are likely to object to the routine presence of practice nurses. The challenge is to create a climate of trust and honesty.'

Graham Burt a spokesman for the Medical Defence Union said that in a year they were involved in about 20 'chaperone' cases. 'This includes six cases alleging improper examinations. Five came from women about male doctors and one came from a female patient about a female doctor.'

He said there had been one case of an allegation of indecent assault against the doctor, made by the chaperone.