Practices must embrace flexible working to tackle partnership gender gap

Practices need to embrace flexible working and better work-life balance for staff to tackle the gender gap in partnership roles, GP leaders have warned.

Women became the majority of the GP workforce for the first time in 2014, and now account for 54% of the UK’s 44,396 general practitioners, according to the lastest workforce figures from NHS Digital.

However, women remain under-represented in senior roles. As of December 2018, just 39% of female GPs were partners, compared to 62% of male GPs. Meanwhile, figures from the BMA show that women make up just 26% of CCG GP leads.

Speaking on International Women's Day, GPC executive team member Dr Farah Jameel said: ‘While women now make up more than half of the GP workforce, there is still a disappointing lack of female representation at leadership level. To meet the needs of their local communities, primary care leadership must reflect the diversity of the patient population, and therefore there must be a more equal balance of men and women in partnerships and senior NHS positions.'

Equal representation

Dr Jameel added: ‘Historically, the majority of GP partners have been male, and while we are starting to see change, the partnership model needs to embed at the heart of it better work-life balance and support for flexible working. Traditionally, women will have more caring responsibilities, and the current workload pressures – through which partners work 12- to 15-hour days – are not conducive to family life. In addition, while the changes to guaranteed parental pay for GPs have been helpful, this still does not cover the full costs of partners taking maternity leave.'

Parent-friendly working environments, digital working and childcare facilities for practice staff would help encourage parents of all genders into general practice, Dr Jameel said, ensuring that ‘this valuable section of our workforce is able to offer the best to patients’.

Overall, women account for more than three quarters (77%) of the 1.2m strong NHS workforce. Figures published last year show a consistent upward trajectory in female representation across various NHS sectors, with women accounting for 45% of hospital doctors, 40% of ambulance staff and 89% of nurses and health visitors.

However, figures published by the BMA in 2018 suggest that just 36% of consultants and 11% of surgeons are women.

Women in senior roles

Dr Jameel continued: ‘In the wider NHS, there are many barriers – or perceived barriers – to women entering senior roles. To combat this, there must be changes, both culturally and structurally. A distinct lack of obvious female role models is one factor that perpetuates this situation and organisations must take steps to ensure those who are in senior positions are more visible to their peers and the next generation.’

A report published today by the Health and Care Women Leaders Network highlighted men as having an important role to play in supporting women working in the NHS.

Network chair Samantha Allen said: 'Men play a crucial role in ensuring women are represented and supported in leadership roles. To achieve progress on gender balance across the NHS we need men, as leaders and as colleagues, to understand the barriers women can face in the workplace and be prepared to ask women how they can be better allies.

'To attract, retain and motivate our workforce together we all have a role to ensure the working environment in the NHS is one that supports all and helps everyone to achieve their potential. Balance is better for everyone.'

Tackling inequality

Responding to the report, BMA representative body acting chair and GP Dr Helena McKeown said: ‘Men can play a significant role in recognising and helping stop challenging behaviours, playing their part in tackling inequality. Specifically, the BMA recognises that men play an especially important role in tackling the gender pay gap, through engaging with the independent review of the gender pay gap in medicine and finding out from women colleagues what the issues might be in their organisation.

‘Of course, this is part of a broader discussion that can begin to hold employers to account to address not just gender pay gaps, but wider inequalities in their workforce.’ 

To mark International Women’s Day, NHS England released a video featuring messages from women across the healthcare sector relaying the message ‘better the balance, better the world’.

#BalanceForBetter

NHS England’s acting medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani, who is also a GP, was responsible for putting the video together.

She said: ‘Today marks International Women’s Day and it’s come at a time when the NHS is employing more women than ever. The NHS is proud to be in the forefront of promoting the talents of women throughout the service.'

Londonwide LMCs chief and GP Dr Michelle Drage also praised general practice for achieving ‘an equal gender balance’, but agreed that there is still work to be done.

"It is important to celebrate the role of all women at every level of general practice, and the steps the profession has taken to improve gender balance,’ she said. ‘The #BalanceforBetter campaign is important in inspiring us to continue to make further steps towards achieving gender equality.'

Dr Drage said general practice was ‘well ahead’ of many other areas of specialist medicine when it comes to gender equality.

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