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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Tories 'outrage women doctors'
Woman GP
Women doctors say they work as hard as men
A Tory health spokesman has caused outrage by suggesting that women doctors do not work as hard as men.

Phil Hammond is reported to have told a private meeting of Conservative parliamentary candidates that over the course of their working lives women doctors do 20% less work than their male colleagues.

Mr Hammond told the meeting that the figures raised concerns over Health Secretary Alan Milburn's pledge to recruit thousands of extra doctors.

But doctors have dismissed the figures and accused Mr Hammond of attempting to denigrate women.

Phil Hammond
Phil Hammond denies denigrating women

Mr Hammond is reported in The Times as saying: "When Alan Milburn tells you he's going to produce an extra 8,000 doctors, you need to ask him what gender they are going to be.

"If it turns out that they are going to be female, that does not present anything like the net gain over time in professional hours as he would have us believe."

However, speaking on Wednesday Mr Hammond denied making the comments.

"I didn't actually say that. What I said was that the Royal College of Physicians have done a study which shows that over their whole working life, because of time taken out for family commitments such as maternity leave, women doctors do deliver a shorter career input over their whole working life.

"Over a working career they do not deliver the same number of hours as a male doctor because of taking time out for their family.

"When we hear we are going to have 8,000 extra doctors, if 70% of them are female then we are only really delivering an extra 7,000 careers over a working lifetime."

Criticism

But Dr Sarah Thurlbeck, a consultant paediatrician at St George's Hospital in south London, disputed the figures.

"This really denigrates women's contribution to medicine and the NHS in particular.

"Secondly, I dispute the figures put forward. A reduction of 20% would mean women taking a break of eight weeks a year in a 40-year career, which I just don't believe."


This really denigrates women's contribution to medicine

Dr Sarah Thurlbeck, St George's Hospital London

"Consultants work an average of 55 hours a week at the moment but when the EU's Working Time Directive comes in with a 48-hour week it won't matter whether doctors are men or women."

Dr Mollie McBride, of the Medical Women's Federation, which represents female doctors, added: "Figures from the Office for National Statistics for 1999 show that women medical staff were working longer hours than male doctors.

"It shows that women were working 45.5 hours compared with 42 hours per week for men."

And a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Physicians said: "I don't know where that figure has come from.

"In the past we have said that because women take time off for maternity leave they will, over their working lives, work less than men.

"But that does not mean that they work less hard than men. Some of the time they are working as hard, if not harder than their male counterparts."

Health Secretary Mr Milburn accused Mr Hammond of insulting women.

"Having insulted foreign doctors, the Tories are insulting women."

Mr Hammond's comments come just weeks after the Tories were criticised for complaining about the standard of English spoken by foreign doctors working in Britain.

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See also:

08 Apr 99 | Health
Junior doctors secure hours deal
05 Sep 00 | Health
Tories committed to free NHS
27 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Row over foreign doctors' English
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