Junior doctors in the UK have been threatening to strike since last summer, when a new contract was presented to the Doctors Trade Union by the government (read: Jeremy Hunt) that threatens to cut their pay and extend their hours. Naturally, this drastic action has resulted in many spirited opinion pieces, but one in particular penned this weekend warranted a heavier response.
The column, published in The Sunday Times, was written by Dominic Lawson (Nigella's brother), a Conservative journalist. In the piece, he blamed the healthcare problems not on government cuts, but on the growing number of women who are working in medicine. He seriously argues that female doctors are more likely to work fewer hours and prioritise their families over their careers, thus causing the NHS shortfalls in the UK.
Naturally, this went over well with all the female doctors out there – and the male doctors whose colleagues and bosses are hard-working, example-setting women!
In the article, Lawson builds a case against female doctors, notably quoting just one female doctor, three male doctors and one male researcher. A balanced argument, Dom. The result? A feature that reads like a riled up old boys' club newsletter for men who might still prescribe bed rest for "nervous women."
We went behind the pay wall of The Times and fished out some gems from the copy:
"It’s not just a matter of wanting to avoid 'antisocial hours' that interfere with family life — an institution to which men tend to pay homage but that women are actually more likely to put ahead of their career. Last year Dr Max Pemberton wrote: 'We are facing a crisis in the NHS . . . It’s a crisis caused by having too many female doctors . . . Quite simply, the average male medical graduate will work full-time, while the average female won’t. In fact, a study of doctors 15 years after graduation showed that... after career breaks and part-time working are taken into account, women work 25% less than their male counterparts.'" Dominic Lawson
"Or as Dr Chris Heath, a 40-year NHS veteran, wrote to me: 'Women doctors don’t like weekend rotas... This is one of the reasons why paediatric units are failing: 70% of their junior staff being women and therefore frequently off on maternity leave.' I wonder what Dr Heath would make of Sarah el-Sheikha, who complained in The Guardian that the government’s proposed change will 'particularly damage specialities such as anaesthetics, a department that has striven to make itself family friendly'. What about being friendly to the families who need to use the service?" Dominic Lawson
"So I have received quite a few perplexed letters from airline pilots — who also, in a different way, hold our lives in their hands — pointing out that they don’t get paid different rates for flights at weekends to compensate them for the disruption to their family life. But then how many female airline pilots have you ever met?" Dominic Lawson
At best, this is laughable. In reality, it's an assault. The media should be supporting junior doctors, both male and female alike in the matter at hand: Hours and Pay, not making irrelevant, outrageous claims that women are less capable of doing the job.
Refinery29 asked a female cardiologist at one of London's best hospitals for comment:
“Of the 300 or so doctors I know, only one works part-time because of childcare; every other female doctor I know with children works full time. It’s insulting to suggest that caring about your family means you are less dedicated to your career. And also, there’s nothing wrong with part-time work! Most people who work part-time do four days a week anyway because there’s so much to do. In my unit, at one of the top London teaching hospitals, most of the promising younger (30-35) researchers are female, and two of them have kids. The female doctors who have kids work even harder; they are the most efficient and dedicated people I know, who go out of their way to make sure their career doesn’t suffer as a result of their home commitments, and also make sure their family doesn’t suffer as a result of their career! Fortunately, in the NHS, our attitudes towards women are not from the 70s."
We also spoke to a male GP running two practices in London, that employs as many female doctors as male doctors, who said:
"The NHS cannot do without female doctors. More than 50% of medical undergraduates are female. Not to mention that the main users of the National Health Service are women and children and often these patients prefer to see a female doctor, therefore, there is a clear demand for female doctors in the NHS. These days there are training programmes built to accommodate trainee female doctors who have children, and it’s true that this costs more, but it does not affect the care of patients. Female doctors are no less committed to their jobs than male doctors. Of course there are sometimes problems with childcare, as in any business, but in my experience, female doctors who are mothers work even harder around this so that it does not result in a lesser service to the patient. The NHS just needs to be managed properly, like any other company, that caters for its employees' needs."
Support female doctors with #likealadydoc #pinkwednesday.