There are more women working in the medical work force and in undergraduate medicine than ever before. The proportion of female consultants has increased steadily to 26 per cent. from 19 per cent. in 1995. We have a range of schemes in place to encourage women to enter and progress in medicine, including the flexible career scheme.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. I am sure that she shares my pleasure at seeing so many undergraduates coming in, particularly at the Hull York medical school, where a huge proportion—more than 50 per cent.—are women. However, does she share my concern that both in hospital medicine and general practice, many women are choosing to go part- time for the very good reason of wanting to bring up a good family? That effectively means that we almost have to train two lady doctors for each position. The implications for senior positions in hospital medicine are alarming, particularly when the Government have removed the post of senior house officer. What does the Minister see as the way forward in encouraging more women to remain in full-time positions in order to gain the necessary experience to become senior hospital practitioners?
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point, but I remind her not only that the numbers of young women training in medical schools are increasing, but that the representation of women in senior positions has steadily improved at all levels and in practically all specialties over the last 10 years. I believe, as do the Government, that it is important to offer real choice to men and women to balance their work and family life. If we can facilitate flexible working, we should do so, and the same applies to flexible training. A year ago, the junior medical committee of the British Medical Association reached an agreement with the Government and other relevant parties on the introduction of a flexible training scheme that would allow the accreditation of flexible training. I believe that that is the right way forward rather than somehow artificially encouraging people to work full time when they would otherwise choose not to do so.
My grandmother was a GP in the Gorbals from the 1940s through to the 1960s—quite early on in respect of women practitioners in this country. There were not too many women GPs then and there are many more now, as my right hon. Friend said. Many women want a greater degree of flexibility in their career than the GP system allows for. Sometimes they are helped through the system by having more salaried GPs. Would my right hon. Friend talk further with her colleagues in Wales about the possibility of developing more salaried GP positions that would be available to women?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point and I will certainly take up his suggestion of having further discussions with colleagues in Wales. It is important to offer flexible careers both in hospital medicine and for GPs. The flexible career initiative was first introduced for hospital medicine, but has since been extended to GPs, who are beginning to find it easier to combine work as a GP with different family responsibilities. That particularly helps women.
Will the Minister promise the House that in her desire to see more women in senior positions in the medical profession, she will not go down the politically correct route of having quotas, targets and positive discrimination? Will she always hold to the fact that jobs should be given on merit, irrespective of people’s gender?
Of course jobs should be given on merit, but if the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the majority of female undergraduates who are currently training in medical school should not have the opportunity to have their careers progress at the same rate as men’s, I believe that he is mistaken.