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Workforce policy may spark sex discrimination challenge

The RCGP and BMA are considering a legal challenge against the Government's workforce policies on the grounds they discriminate against female GPs, writes Rob Finch.

The action will focus on cuts to the flexible career and GP returner schemes, both of which have been primarily used by women doctors.

News of the potential action came as both organisations warned MPs that GPs' careers were being 'blighted' by a lack of planning and 'shortsighted' cost-cutting by the Government.

In written submissions to the Health Select Committee's inquiry into NHS workforce planning, the BMA and RCGP argued there was 'no coherent strategy' for dealing with the changing career aspirations of GPs.

Both organisations called for new schemes to encourage GP recruitment and retention.

Dr Maureen Baker, RCGP honorary secretary and author of the college's evidence, said the decision to abandon the flexible careers scheme was

'extreme short-termism'.

She said: 'The flexible career and GP returner schemes were crucial elements to retaining women doctors in the GP workforce.

'As the vast majority of doctors who used these schemes were female it seems to us that ending these was indeed discriminatory.'

The RCGP evidence said local workforce development con-federations had been 'under-

resourced, poorly supported at a senior level and abandoned'.

It blamed the Government's disbanding of the Medical

Practices Committee for the fact many areas were under-

doctored.

The BMA's evidence claimed workforce planners had been caught out by rapid political changes to the NHS.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC

negotiator, said the workforce crisis was being exacerbated by the lack of pressure on PCTs to take up incentive schemes.

He said: 'The Government are talking the talk, but they are not walking the walk to ensure the money is there to incentivise GPs to work in the deprived inner-city areas.'

Dr Vautrey added that the Government would quickly discover skillmix was not a cheap option because nurses consulted more slowly and were more 'risk averse'.

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