The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh is calling on the NHS to develop more flexible working patterns in order to respond to the rapidly increasing number of female medical graduates and doctors, and to ensure that the provision of patient care is maintained.
The RCPE says that since 2001 the number of female doctors in the UK has increased by 37%, while the number of male doctors fell by 8% over the same period. It adds that new statistics also show that 42% of all doctors are women (28% of hospital consultants and 47% of GPs).
It notes: “Whilst there has traditionally been a higher percentage of women doctors working as GPs, due to the more flexible working arrangements available in general practice, similar trends are starting to emerge in the hospital sector, with 46% more female doctors registered in their Foundation Year training in 2010 than males. Given the current, limited, opportunities for working flexibly in hospitals this potentially has significant implications for the NHS and the delivery of patient care if greater emphasis is not placed on adjusting working patterns and career structures to the needs of the changing medical workforce.”
To highlight this issue, the RCPE convened a high-level conference, at which invited participants and delegates discussed the practical challenges arising for the NHS from the increasing feminisation of the workforce and aimed to identify potential solutions.
The RCPE says it is not just about female doctors though as there is increasing demand from male doctors to work less than full time. It states: “In particular, an insufficiency of flexible opportunities to reduce hours for both male and female doctors nearing the end of their careers may force doctors prematurely into retirement and result in a loss of knowledge and experience to the NHS.”
Dr Alison Brown, Chair of the RCPE’s Less Than Full Time Working Group, and an NHS Consultant, said: “Over the last decade the NHS has become much more successful at attracting women and there has been a significant change in the shape of the medical workforce, with more female doctors than ever before coming into medicine. While the NHS has tried to respond to this by increasing the opportunities to work and train flexibly this has not been at a sufficient rate to meet the rapidly increasing demand. As a result, there is now a real threat that talented female doctors within the NHS may be unable to continue in their chosen career once they have young children, and that females may be put off from applying to medical school. This potentially has significant implications for the NHS given the extent to which female doctors now make up the workforce and it is essential that the NHS now works to adapt to the changing workforce.
“The RCPE is committed to promoting equality of opportunity for all; we also recognise that many doctors who do train or work less than full time, through personal choice, are placed at a distinct disadvantage to their full time counterparts. Their requirement to be trained and remain competent and up to date, through a process of continuing professional development, is exactly the same as their full time equivalents. This level of competency is essential to maintain the quality of patient care, but accommodating this within a part-time schedule can be very demanding. Similarly, there can be insufficient time to undertake the wider range of non-clinical duties, (such as teaching, audit and research), or contribute to out of hours management meetings, and this can adversely affect the career progression of less than full time doctors.”