20/11/2015 04:54 GMT | Updated 19/11/2016 05:12 GMT

Closing the Gender Gap in General Practice

It's not too distant a memory when a visit to the GP involved a consultation with a middle-aged man in a suit, practising from a 'surgery' that was often one or two rooms in the family home.

But general practice moves quickly and the traditional role of the GP as espoused by the fictional 'Dr Finlay' and his famous Casebook has disappeared forever.

This week, the General Medical Council released data showing that, for the second year running, there are now more women GPs under 40 on its lists than male. It is a trend that is set to continue with women making up 69% of GPs in training across the UK.

These figures show that the NHS is a real success story in terms of sex equality. Our health service - and general practice in particular - is one area where we are streets ahead of the corporate world, with its numerous obstacles to career advancement.

Cue the cries: women GPs are the downfall of the NHS; they all want to have babies and work part time; general practice is a 'less demanding specialty'; they lack ambition.

Such attitudes are frustrating and insulting, both for women and for our profession - as well as being completely untrue.

Being a GP is an extremely challenging and stimulating career. Diseases are becoming ever more complex and, with a growing and ageing population, more people are living with a combination of life-limiting conditions that need expert management.

We never know who is going to walk through our consulting room door, and with what condition, and we have just ten minutes to figure it all out. We are also performing procedures in our surgeries that just a decade ago would have been immediately referred to hospitals.

We must overcome perceptions that those in part time work or who are training part time only have a part time commitment to medicine. Any doctor who chooses general practice as a specialty is certainly not doing it for an easy ride.

Men have families too and I'm proud that general practice offers flexibility, enabling doctors of all genders to balance medicine with other commitments.

We must ensure that taking time out, for whatever reason, does not signal the end or the slowing down of a GP's career in medicine. These are highly skilled doctors - trained at a significant cost to the taxpayer - and we cannot allow such a valuable resource to be lost in a labyrinth of red tape, making it difficult for them to return to general practice and their patients.

This is why the RCGP is working with NHS England, Health Education England and the BMA to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles that currently prevent GPs who have had a career break to return to frontline patient care.

It is our patients who benefit from a diverse workforce and with an overall ratio of 50.4% female to 49.6% male, it looks like we are achieving a good balance.

So let's celebrate this week's figures and the excellent work done by all GPs in keeping the NHS afloat and our patients safe, often in very difficult circumstances.

I think Dr Finlay would be proud!