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Why female GPs are earning 15% less than their male counterparts

A major independent review finds huge pay discrepancies remain, reports Nicola Merrifield

Female GPs are earning around 15% less than male GPs who work the same hours. That is the stark finding for GPs from a Government-commissioned review into the gender pay gap in medicine.

The 370-page report, published in full in December, looks at payroll data for around 16,000 GPs in England and also reveals pay gaps exist for female and male GPs in the same roles, for both salaried and partner positions.

The problem is not restricted to GPs. Health secretary Matt Hancock’s foreword notes there is a pay gap across medicine that is ‘out of line with other professions and significantly wider than for other NHS staff groups’.

The review confirms women account for the majority of the GP workforce, at 55%, but Mr Hancock states the medical profession has ‘inadvertently created a glass ceiling for women’ over decades due to retaining ‘a male dominated culture and reward package’.

The reasons behind the GP pay gap are manifold. As in many other professions, women are more likely to work less than full time due to childcare or caring responsibilities – and, as a consequence, are less likely to take higher-earning partnership roles.

‘For a predominantly female workforce, why are more of us not partners?,’ asks Dr Helena McKeown, who is BMA representative body chair and contributed to the review.

Dorset GP Dr McKeown says while general practice is more family friendly than hospital work, more still needs to be done to create flexibility in partnerships.

‘We need to encourage applications from women by offering partnership job shares and also accept more four-session partnerships. Some practices don’t want partners unless they can commit to six or seven sessions,’ she says.

The absence of such flexibility means female GPs are often found in salaried roles, which tend to be paid less than partnerships.

But even when doing the same roles, female GPs earn less than their male counterparts – on average around 22% less in salaried positions and 8% less as partners (see charts, below). The review does note that the pay gap is ‘close to zero among GP registrars and locum GPs’.

GPs can attract additional pay if they take on extra duties such as GP training or medical student training. But Dr McKeown says the size of the gender pay gap among salaried GPs indicates that there are also cultural issues at play.

Outdated attitudes

The report’s findings back this up, suggesting the discrepancy cannot be explained by female salaried GPs being younger and therefore less experienced: ‘For salaried GPs… most of the gender pay gap attributable to men and women being paid differently is due to different rates of pay for a given age.’

Dr McKeown highlights one possible factor: ‘Men are generally more likely to ask for pay rises then women.’

She also believes outdated attitudes are playing a part. ‘I’ve heard a senior male GP partner say during a meeting: “All the salaried doctors who are women leave at 5pm to get the children”. It was explained to the partner by a male colleague that their practice had both men and women who leave at 5pm for childcare responsibilities if that’s in their contract.’

The report makes a total of 47 recommendations across seven themes, including retaining and promoting more women in senior roles, and eliminating the ‘pay and career penalty’ for doctors working less than full time.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, professor of medical education at University College London, who chaired the review, calls for a systemwide effort, warning: ‘Although the pay gap has narrowed over time, progress is slow and women will continue to face disadvantages unless action is taken.’



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Merlin Wyltt 4 February, 2021 10:20 am

I agree with the sentiments of this article. Female GPs need to be encouraged to take on partnership roles.

Turn out The lights 4 February, 2021 11:46 am

Why take on partnership roles now ,the GP partner is going the way of the Dodo.

Simon Gilbert 5 February, 2021 3:56 pm

Salaried GP jobs are not the same in every practice and they vary in intensity and hours. I would be surprised if salaried GP pay varied by sex within a given practice – does the report look at this?

David Church 6 February, 2021 1:48 pm

Dear Dr McKeown, as a GP Partner, who do we ask for a pay rise ? Clearly female GPs are not asking for a pay rise as often ans males because they have nobody to ask for it from??

Dylan Summers 7 February, 2021 11:14 am

“But even when doing the same roles, female GPs earn less than their male counterparts – on average around 22% less in salaried positions”

In every practice I’ve worked at, salaried GPs are on a practice-wide unisex pay scale based only on two factors: number of years experience and number of hours worked . Does the calculation adjust for these factors?

There may be plenty of areas within the NHS where sexism is a problem but I find it hard to believe that salaried GP pay is one such area.

Helena Mckeown 3 March, 2021 4:05 pm

The calculation uses decomposition analysis to identify the main contributing factors. The GPG begins to appear for women in their thirties when many women have children. Women’s earnings only start to catch up with men’s after the age of 60. Women are more likely to take time off to have children and thus in the scenario you describe where number of years experience is described as a factor in pay, which is conforms to the Equalities act over the sector of the profession there’s a GPG. To address that more men need to work LTFT or childcare needs to be cheaper and working as a GP more attractive than looking after children in those hours.

Charles Richards 8 March, 2021 10:06 am

If you compare partners with salaried you get meaningless data. Compare partners with partners or salaried with salaried. And needless to say allow for all work hours, week-ends, on calls and roles. If there is a difference for equal work, it is important. Loosing this work’s credibility because of sloppy inclusion criteria is a shame

Which serious researcher would not off set for how many competitive surgical specialities and shift patterns are unattractive on an unequal basis, when calculating hospital income disparity.