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Women GPs aren’t a ‘tremendous burden’, but a family-friendly profession needs better workforce planning

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I’m rather surprised by the furore surrounding the comments made by Anna Soubry and Anne McIntosh in the House of Commons last week.  

As a female, part-time GP trainee, mother of one, I’m exactly the demographic that the comments were about, but am I offended? Not in the least. In fact I think they may have a point.

Approximately 55% of medical students are now female and, if the experts are to be believed, that percentage is set to continue rising over the coming years. Women tend to have children when they reach a certain age and the bulk of the childcare responsibility often falls to them once said sprogs have arrived. This has been going on for a very long time, none of us should be surprised by this, or the fact that female doctors (shock horror!) follow the same pattern.  Often those mothers choose to work part-time in an attempt to juggle their earning, parenting and personal responsibilities in the best way available to them.

Inadvertently I am costing the NHS a pretty hefty sum to train. Not only did I change my mind about my specialism after five years of medical training, but with maternity leave and working part time I have not been cheap to train as a GP.

For every two part-time trainees the NHS pays the equivalent of 12 sessions a week instead of the 10 it would pay a full-time trainee. This is because we are all encouraged to work three days a week with a day overlap - sensible but expensive.

The NHS is incredibly supportive of flexible working, and long may that continue. However, there is a potential problem on the horizon if the proportion of female doctors continues to rise, and we would be foolish not to recognise that. Female trainees have the potential to cost significantly more than their male counterparts and I think that was the main ‘unintended consequence’ that Anna Soubry was referring to.

Is it not a mad world we live in if those responsible for planning the finances of our NHS are criticised and lampooned for publicly observing a possible glitch in the balance sheet?

We want the best people to become doctors, whether they are male or female, but if more of them are going to be female we need to think carefully about the best way to manage them so we don’t end up bankrupting the NHS through blind political correctness.

Dr Laura O’Loghlen is a GPST1 who lives in Devon and trains in Gloucestershire.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Brilliant. It's a joy to read something from someone who can be objective. Thank you.

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  • I think you are absolutely right but would also add that there is equally a growing trend for male part time working as well that needs to be prepared for. Even more so we need to think about why people are working part time - is it just 'lifestyle' or is it unsustainably high stress and workload?

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  • I think the trend is for many doctors of both sexes to move towards part time working, with many doctors doing locums to enhance incomes. The major loss is to continuity of care and this is having an impact on patients.
    We need to be designing systems for patients first and then fitting the needs of doctors afterwards, not the other way round which is what has been happening since the introduction of the EWTD.

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