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Rise in women GPs to spark workforce crisis

By Anna Hodgekiss

General practice is heading for a crisis within the next decade because of the increasing influx of women GPs, GP-led research has concluded.

The Scottish study of almost 3,000 GPs found women doctors worked fewer hours than their male counterparts at all stages in their careers.

Men spent 18 per cent more time on average doing clinical work and 50 per cent more on activities such as teaching and research.

Full-time male GPs did 7.9 clinical sessions per week and 1.1 sessions on other NHS activities on average, compared with 6.7 and 0.7 sessions by women.

The study concluded: 'despite an apparently rising overall number of GPs, this [situation] poses a threat to the future of the GP specialty in Scotland.'

Two out of every three new entrants to general practice are women. Women now account for 40 per cent of the GP workforce in the UK.

Study author Dr Brian McKinstry, a senior research fellow in general practice at the University of Edinburgh and a GP in the city, said: 'We're heading for a crisis in five to 10 years' time if something isn't done.

'We found women GPs did 20 per cent fewer sessions on average and I would be surprised if that trend wasn't UK-wide.'

Dr McKinstry said it was hard to estimate how many more GPs were needed to cover the shortfall in hours, but action was needed to make it easier for women to work longer.

He added that the traditional image of general practice as

'less sexy' than hospital medicine had deterred many male doctors.

Dr Mary Church, joint-chair of the Scottish GPC, said NHS workforce planners needed to act on the problem.

She said: 'Maybe we should revert to a 50/50 male female split [in registrar places] and try to redress the balance, because a different skills mix is not the answer everyone thinks.

'Women have another job looking after their children, so their working habits are unlikely to change.'

Dr Fiona Cornish, a GP trainer in Cambridge and treasurer of the Medical Women's Federation, said most women GPs did not want to work full-time.

Women also found it harder to do non-clinical work such as medical politics, she said.

Dr Cornish said: 'Meetings are usually in the evening, when women are left cooking supper and holding the baby.'

The study was published online in BMC Health Services Research.

ahodgekiss@cmpi.biz

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