Doctors and feminists alike have been responding with derision to a senior academic's suggestion that fewer women should be "allowed" to train as doctors.
Roger Alford, who taught in the economics department at the London School of Economics (LSE) from 1952-92, wrote in a letter to The Times that male doctors were "better value for the money spent on medical training", as women were more likely to eventually decide to work part-time.
Dr Alford, who is currently Emeritus reader in economics at LSE, wrote:
"I understand that there is now a very high proportion of women students in our medical schools, and that many women doctors are likely in due course to move to part-time appointments.
"Given that the role of medical schools must be to deliver the full-time frontline doctors that we need, surely the number of young women allowed to begin training should be considerably limited to allow in more young men who will give a full career of medical service and provide society with much better value for the money spent on medical training."
Enraged readers quickly took to Twitter to react to his letter with a mixture of anger and sarcasm:
A spokesman for LSE told The Independent: "The letter is a personal view of a retired academic. It does not reflect LSE’s position”.
Some 186,000 female doctors are registered in the UK, making up just over 40 per cent of the overall workforce. More than 50 per cent of all GPs are women.
Dr Alford's letter was published the day before the start of the fourth junior doctors' strike over government proposals for new contracts. Under the new contract, junior doctors' standard working hours would be extended to 10pm on weekdays, and include full-day Saturday shifts for the first time. Trainees say they will be forced to work unsafe hours and several weekends in a row.
Senior medics have warned that the new contract would discriminate against women, deterring them from entering the profession and punishing doctors who take time off to raise a family. Concerns have also been raised that proposals to remove safeguards around shift breaks will disproportionately affect pregnant doctors.
While fewer than 20 per cent of junior doctors work part-time, the vast majority of these are women, often those who have recently returned from maternity leave. Under the new contract, trainees who choose to work part-time would see their pay increase more slowly than their colleagues.
The government's own equality analysis of the new contracts acknowledged that they contain features that "impact disproportionately on women", and would "disadvantage" women working part-time and single parents. But the assessment goes on to state that: "Any adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end.”
Two more all-out junior doctors' strikes, covering all areas of medical care, are planned for 26 and 27 April.
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