A health minister came under fire yesterday after suggesting female doctors who cut back their hours after having children were a drain on the resources of the National Health Service.
Anna Soubry was answering a question about the “huge burden” of women who received expensive medical training but went part-time later after starting families. She told MPs that she welcomed the large number of female medical students, but added that there were “unintended consequences” as a result.
In the face of anger from anger from GPs, Ms Soubry later insisted she had not meant to be derogatory and said she backed the principle of flexible working.
The row blew up after the Tory MP Anne McIntosh told the Commons: “It is a controversial thing to say, but perhaps I as a woman can say this – 70 per cent of medical students currently are women and they are very well-educated and very well-qualified.
“When they go into practice and then in the normal course of events will marry and have children, they often want to go part-time and it is obviously a tremendous burden training what effectively might be two GPs working part-time where they are ladies.”
Ms Soubry replied: “You make a very important point when you talk about, rightly, the good number of women who are training to be doctors but the unintended consequences.”
A British Medical Association spokesman said: “This is a very outdated view of women in the modern workplace. Having a family or choosing to work flexibly should not be perceived as a negative career option, for women or men.
“The NHS needs to adapt its workforce planning to reflect the changing working patterns in society.”
Clare Gerada, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, tweeted in response: “I cannot believe that women doctors are being blamed for problems in NHS.”
She said: “I have the triple whammy – female and GP and mother – must go and bow my head in shame.”
In a statement later Ms Soubry said: “I fully support women GPs. My comments were not intended to be derogatory and I was responding to a point made by another MP during the debate.
“As the head of the RCGP [Royal College of General Practitioners] also recently pointed out, some female GPs work part-time due to families. The solution is that we need to increase the number of GPs and we are doing that.
“This Government supports good working practices such as flexible working, job sharing and part-time working which help retain female doctors.”
David Cameron's official spokesman said the Prime Minister had full confidence in Ms Soubry. He said: “I think the minister has explained the point she was seeking to make.”
Asked if Mr Cameron regarded women doctors as a drain on NHS resources, the spokesman replied: “What counts is your professionalism and passion for the job.
“It is not a question around gender. It is about the professionalism and dedication and passion people bring to the job.
“That is why we can be proud of the dedication that the vast majority of doctors up and down the country demonstrate on a daily basis.”