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NHS gender pay gap: Male doctors earn 17% more than female peers, review reveals

'The culture of the system does need to change... if you work less than full time you’re not taken as seriously - it's known as the maternity penalty'

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Friday 29 March 2019 07:30 GMT
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The gender pay gap explained

Male doctors in the NHS earn 17 per cent more than their female colleagues, according to official gender pay figures which show men continue to dominate the best-paid specialities.

This is greater than the 15 per cent pay gap revealed last year, which triggered a deep dive into the cultural, practical and psychological factors behind the medicine pay gap being led by the former head of the Royal College of Physicians, Professor Dame Jane Dacre.

In some specialities the gap is much greater. Male GPs take home £1.33 for every £1 earned by female family doctors and the highest paid consultants – like surgeons and urologists – are disproportionately men.

As doctors are among NHS’ highest earners they contribute disproportionately to the overall NHS pay gap figure, where men earn 23 per cent more than women.

The final report in September will include recommendations for closing the medicine pay gap, in particular looking to address disproportionate numbers of male consultants, who outnumber women two to one. Consultants are the highest-paid doctors.

Despite two thirds of doctors in training schemes being women there are 32,000 male consultants and only 18,000 female ones. This gap is narrowing but persisting longer than many would like.

“We’ve always thought as more women come through the pipeline things would level out, but it isn’t happening as fast as you might expect,” Dr Sally Davies, a past president of the Medical Women’s Federation and recently retired geneticist, told The Independent.

The reasons, such as taking time out to have children or care for relatives, are not unique to doctors.

But there are particular challenges for medics who have to spend a decade training and must be actively practising to demonstrate and retain the competencies they need to progress.

NHS staff are already under unprecedented pressure amid staff shortages and record demand. But this is compounded by archaic attitudes and inflexible working patterns which mean many women who step off the consultant training ladder don’t step back on, critics say.

“The culture of the system does need to change,” Dr Davies said. “We’ve always known if you work less than full time you’re not taken as seriously - it’s what has been called the ‘maternity penalty’”.

For GPs, where women make up the majority of the workforce, the pay gap can be attributed to greater numbers of men who are higher earning partners, while women may be employed by practices or work as freelance locums.

The forensic review being undertaken by Professor Dacre’s will propose ways to make these roles more accessible, or appealing to women and make the inequalities impossible to ignore.

Dr Davies added: “I spent years being told, by very highly respected male doctors, ‘oh don’t be silly, Sally - the pay gap doesn’t’ exist.’”

“It’s much easier to ignore something than do something about it, and the beauty of this review is that there will be concrete recommendations.”

Figures last year showed male doctors earn £10,000 a year more, taking home on average £67,788 in basic pay, compared to £57,569 for female doctors.

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Professor Dacre said: “Our research shows that the gender pay gap in medicine is slowly narrowing, but with more to do.

“The findings of the review will help us to work with government, employers and the profession to identify and understand the main contributors to the gap, and to explore ways to reduce it, based on our evidence”.

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