As a mother with careers as a journalist, a barrister and a politician I know the last thing working women need is criticism from their own.
So I was saddened to see a few words from more than an hour of nuanced and wide-ranging debate in Parliament used to paint me as a critic of female doctors.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I know from my own experience in male-dominated industries that working mothers face a tough choice between career and family. And it’s a never ending juggling match to keep all the balls in the air.
As a child I saw first-hand the difficulties my own mother faced as she worked as a radiographer from the 1950’s to her retirement forty years later, whilst raising three children. Back then working women with children were not supported at all and they had to fight for every little concession, even while they were paid less than male colleagues for doing the same job.
Today women working in the health system have better rights, but it’s no less difficult. That is why they should be supported and championed and why we have taken action to encourage more women clinical leaders and are working across the NHS to encourage better flexible working.
But as custodians of an NHS under pressure we also need to acknowledge what all organisations must; that flexible working arrangements need to be managed carefully to suit both staff and their employers.
Meeting women’s needs as mothers can exist alongside the needs of any business; but it requires careful and honest thought to make it work. And it means acknowledging that flexibility can have an impact on the business, but that’s no excuse for not finding ways of making it work.
I’m not the first person to comment on this issue in relation to female doctors. Even the head of the RCGP, Dr Clare Gerada, pointed out last week that we need more GPs to support part-time working. A sentiment I fully agree with, which is why I am so pleased the Government has pledged more training places for GPs, with 50 per cent of students training for general practice by 2015.
Having a frank and open debate about those obvious tensions of work and family does not amount to criticism. And it does not somehow suggest a failure to support women in that position.
This country has a proud history of giving women and mothers important rights in the workplace, but we mustn’t shy away from discussing the consequences for fear of being politically correct.
Attempts like this to create faux controversy risks undermining the detailed and thorough Parliamentary debate necessary in a democracy. It risks reducing any discussion of important issues to bland and safe soundbites; thankfully something I’m not known for.
But it’s not going to stop me or any of my colleagues honestly discussing the important issues which come before us.
I realise the perils of speaking my mind is that people can sometimes attribute outlandish statements to me – even when it’s far from what I actually believe. So I hope the hard working female doctors of this country see beyond the headlines and recognise I was not trying to criticise them and that in fact they have my full support.