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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Medicine 'may have to favour men'
Male GP
There are less men than women in medical schools
Medical schools may have to positively discriminate in favour of male students as a way to tackle the staffing crisis in general practice, a leading doctor has said.

Dr Peter Holden, a senior member of the GP Committee of the British Medical Association, said that medicine was likely to get more years of active service out of male doctors.

If the nation decides it wants equality in this area, then it is going to have to accept that it will be a bit short of doctors in future

Dr Peter Holden

He told GP magazine that workforce planners had to be more realistic about the contribution women could make because they took career breaks and worked part-time.

Figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners show that women work for an average of 24 years while men work for more than 31.

Nationally, 60% of medical students are female. In some institutions the figure is as high as 70%.

Staffing shortage

The government has pledged 2,000 extra GPs by 2004.

However, the BMA estimates that 10,000 extra are needed to meet the demands of the government's NHS Plan.

Dr Holden told BBC News Online that just 18 extra whole time equivalent GPs had been recruited in 2001.

He said the number of medical schools had just been expanded, and was unlikely to be increased still further.

I would be against any form of discriminating against women

Dr Claire Gerada
He said: "We have a fixed pool of manpower, and the fact is that some components are not going to give as much service as others.

"I am all for equality, but if the nation decides it wants equality in this area, then it is going to have to accept that it will be a bit short of doctors in future.

"This is a difficult issue, because it is not politically correct. But this is not about misogyny, it is about the medium to long-term future of the medical workforce."


Dr Holden's suggestion has met with fierce criticism from others in the medical profession.

London GP Dr Claire Gerada said: "We had to fight long and hard to get equal status.

"I would be against any form of discriminating against women."

Dr Kenneth Fleming, head of medical sciences at Oxford University and deputy chairman of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said: "If my daughter applied for medical school and was told that she was good enough but entry was restricted for women, I would be pretty disappointed."

A spokesperson from the Equal Opportunities Commission said Dr Holden's comments were "extremely disappointing".

"Not only would such an approach be illegal, it would also be shortsighted and out of touch with the realities of 21st Century life.

"An increasing number of men as well as women want to be able to work in a way that allows them to balance their work and their family responsibilities."

See also:

28 Dec 01 | Health
GP shortage 'will get worse'
19 Mar 01 | Health
Blair's 'boost' for GPs
19 Dec 00 | Health
'Thousands more GPs needed'
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