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Patient Educ Couns. 2006 Jun;61(3):381-8. Epub 2005 Jun 17.

Informed consent? How do primary care professionals prepare women for cervical smears: a qualitative study.

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  • 1Division of Primary Care, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manchester, Rusholme Academic Unit, Walmer Street, Rusholme, Manchester M14 5NP, UK.



Cervical screening is a procedure that is mainly carried out in primary care, predominantly by general practitioners (GPs) and practice nurses (PNs). Much has been published about the effects on women of receiving an abnormal smear result but little has been done to investigate the preparation of women by primary care professionals for this.


To explore the self-reported behaviours of GPs and PNs in preparing a woman for a cervical smear test and possible abnormal result.


Letters inviting respondents to participate were sent to selected GPs and PNs at medical student teaching practices in Manchester, England. Twelve GPs and 15 PNs were interviewed. Interviews were audiotaped and covered aspects of the cervical screening programme, practice protocols and explored views about consenting a woman for a smear test and the information giving about the possibility of an abnormal test result. Interviews were analysed by constant comparison and the interview schedule modified. Recruitment for interviews ceased when category saturation was achieved.


PNs and GPs differed widely in their descriptions of how they prepare a women for a smear. PNs reported following routines which they felt incorporated women's questions and anxieties; GPs reported that the discussion with the woman depended on the reason for doing the smear but also the amount of time available within the consultation. Few respondents reported raising issues of reliability or sensitivity of the test with women, neither did they report discussing with women the possibility of an abnormal smear result or what further investigation and treatment may be required. The degree of persuasion reported by practitioners used to encourage women to attend for smears varied and was related to their attitudes to the national cervical screening programme.


The current system for recall being separate from practice activity, whilst ensuring accuracy of the data-base, may limit the opportunity for information-giving which is sensitive to the needs to the local population. There is a need to include consent issues in the training of PNs, rather than just practical aspects of smear-taking, and to formalise training updates for GPs. In addition, the taking of opportunistic smears and the constraints placed upon time and information-giving need addressing. The role of other primary care staff in encouraging women to attend for smears raises training needs for these staff which practices or primary care trusts must address.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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