The BMA has defended women doctors against claims in a national newspaper article that they are not committed to the NHS.
Doctors leaders have written to the Daily Mail, rejecting comments made by London consultant surgeon J Meirion Thomas.
In the article, published last week, Professor Thomas claims the number of women doctors is having a negative impact on the NHS because ‘most female doctors end up working part-time — usually in general practice — and then retire early’.
The article has sparked consternation among individual doctors and representative organisations including the BMA and MWF (Medical Women’s Federation).
In response, BMA equality and diversity committee chair Krishna Kasaraneni (pictured below) says he is appalled by some of the claims made by Professor Thomas.
‘By questioning the commitment of women doctors working for the NHS, [Professor Thomas] has shown just how out of touch he is with the realities of our modern healthcare system,’ he writes.
‘While he is right to suggest that female doctors take time off from work in order to have children and may choose to return to work part-time, he fails to recognise that this is standard practice in workplaces across the UK and is often fundamental in allowing highly qualified and competent women to continue their medical careers after starting a family.’
Dr Kasaraneni, who is also chair of the GPC GP trainees subcommittee, rebuts Professor Thomas’s suggestion that general practice is organised for the convenience of female GPs.
‘The professor asserts that a GP’s salary is “quite sufficient for a woman doctor who is also a mother to be able to afford quality childcare at home”, while arguing that “doctors tend to marry within their own socioeconomic group and, in many cases, the wife is the secondary earner”,’ he writes.
‘So perhaps we should be looking closely at this disparity in pay, rather than pointing the finger at female doctors for the state of the NHS and suggesting what they can and cannot afford.’
‘Outdated, sexist and dangerous’
Dr Kasaraneni adds that women deserve their place in the NHS and work hard to achieve it.
‘Starting a family or choosing to work flexibly should not be perceived as a negative career option, for either women or men. The NHS must support doctors returning to work, adapt its workforce planning to reflect the changing working patterns in society, and make the medical profession more family friendly for both men and women,’ he writes.
Professor Thomas’s views were also condemned as ‘outdated, sexist and frankly dangerous’ by Glasgow GP Margaret McCartney.
In a response published by the newspaper, she writes that ‘part-timers’ such as herself, work an average of 34.5 hours over two-and-a-half days, according to the annual GP Workforce Census.
She adds: ‘I love my work. Doing it well means keeping up to date with the latest research and guidance, which I usually do once the children are in bed. Denigrating these efforts as those of a “part-timer” and therefore second-class doctor who has failed to pay back society’s debt is hugely demoralising.’
An MWF spokesperson said: ‘It is well recognised that having women as part of the mainstream workforce is key to the success of organisations … Women should not be penalised for [taking time out to have babies or working part-time], just as men, including him, are not penalised for opting to go into private practice or pursue managerial posts which reduce their clinical commitments.’
Join the conversation on this issue in the online BMA community
Read Professor Thomas’s views
Read Dr McCartney’s response