A growing number of women seeking GP jobs in the NHS is leading to a paradigm shift in the gender breakdown of the profession within the UK.
Over the last few years and months, female representation levels within the trade have grown significantly, meaning women now outnumber men for the first time ever - a testament to how female-friendly this crucial line of work has become.
However, social progress remains an ongoing effort and as ever, there are still a number of steps that could be taken to make general practice as accommodating an environment for female staff members as possible. By making the necessary changes, the NHS could create even more opportunities for female GPs, allowing the health service as a whole to benefit from the diversity and expertise provided by a truly egalitarian workforce.
Improving conditions for female GPs
The improvements that are currently taking place on this front were recently showcased in the annual census headcount report for NHS England published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) last month.
It revealed that there were 20,440 females within the GP workforce in 2013, an increase of 2.9 per cent since 2012. By contrast, the male GP headcount came to 19,800, making 2013 the first year in which the number of female GPs has been greater than their male counterparts.
Further analysis showed there has been an increase of 50.9 per cent in the number of female GPs since 2003 - a rise of 6,890 staff members in basic terms - whereas male GP numbers have decreased by a slight 1.1 per cent in the same period.
Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) chair Dr Maureen Baker said: "The NHS is a real success story in terms of gender equality - and general practice should be congratulated for leading the way.
"It is encouraging to know that our profession is seen as a stimulating and progressive career option for both women and men as, ultimately, it is our patients who benefit from a diverse workforce."
Areas for further progress
Despite this sound evidence of progress, there remain a number of areas in which further improvements could be made. Female GPs are often looking to balance their career with family responsibilities, leading to greater calls for flexible working patterns, career breaks, mentorship and return-to-work schemes.
Indeed, these measures are also being requested by plenty of male GPs at the moment, as the world of work is gradually becoming more adaptive and responsive to individual needs and personal commitments. Such changes would also make it easier for staff to take a career break or to spend some time working overseas before returning to the NHS.
However, Dr Baker stated that the single most important priority is to increase the amount of funding and long-term investment in general practice, especially given the challenges posed by an ageing population and the rising prevalence of long-term, complex conditions and mental health problems.
She said: "All four governments of the UK must heed the RCGP's call for an urgent rise in funding to 11 per cent by 2017. This would allow us to create more GP posts, both part-time and full-time, so that we can provide more appointments, longer appointments and safe care to all our patients."
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