Women doctors ‘need govt help’

By Emmeline Saunders

Female doctors should be given more help to reach the top of their profession, according to a new report by a working group.

Introducing part-time working hours, flexible training and improving access to childcare and carers are among the recommendations laid out in the report by the National Working Group on Women in Medicine.

The report addresses concerns that few women are progressing to senior grades in the medical profession, despite an increase in the number of women entering medicine over the last 20 years. Now more than half of new medical school recruits are female: 4,583, or 56.2 per cent of the total admissions in 2008-9 were women, up from 492 in the year 1960-1.

However, the working group, set up in 2006 by the Department of Health, argues that current barriers must be defeated so the female proportion of the NHS workforce – approximately 41 per cent – can improve their career prospects and reach leadership positions.

All existing research on women in medicine was reviewed for the report, and the group concludes that giving career guidance and mentoring, providing support for carers and offering ‘taster’ sessions to those who have taken a career break will help improve the future for female doctors.

As part of their contracts, skilled and fully trained doctors should undertake the mentoring of junior doctors, the report says. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should consider auditing senior appointments to all leadership roles within the NHS and other medical institutions, to ensure women have been given equal opportunities to apply.

With each doctor’s training costing nearly £250,000, running a stable workforce in the NHS is key to ensuring valuable resources are not wasted.

Baroness Beech, who chairs the working group, said: “No doctor should be wasted because they cannot find a place in the system that is compatible with their other roles as a parent and partner, and no doctor should be lost to medicine because of obstacles in the way of finding the right professional placement.

“We should make our goal a profession where every woman and every man goes as far as they wish and as far as their talents permit.”

Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, said: “The problem is not access to medical school, but rather how we ensure the female medical workforce is able to fulfil its potential once in employment.

“The steps outlined here, such as improved mentoring support and the option of part-time training, could go a long way to achieving this.”