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HSE to ask women working in the health sector how they balance maternity with work

Just 7% of all surgeons in Ireland are women.

Image: Pressmaster via Shutterstock

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has announced that the HSE will begin to survey women about their personal experiences of balancing pregnancy with work.

The announcement came in response to a gender diversity report published today by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) which aims to increase the number of female surgeons in Ireland.

For the past two decades, women have made up 50% of all medical graduates; but 34% of surgical trainees are female and just 7% are surgeons.

The report lists 25 key recommendations, some of which are underway and others that are pending funding approval from the HSE.

Minister Harris, who attended the launch of the report, welcomed the implementation aspect of the report, and a yearly RCSI report that will track the progress of diversity among surgeons.

He announced that the HSE would engage with women working in the healthcare sector to identify the challenges they face:

“The HSE will engage directly with the female workforce – in the area of surgery but in all other areas – and talk to them about what we need to do as a health service for women during pregnancy, post-pregnancy and that moment of reengagement with the workforce after pregnancy.”

File Photo MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has said he wants to see a referendum on the Eighth Amendment take place in the summer of 2018 "I think it's really important that we have an inclusive workforce," Harris said today. Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

Harris said that the report was a “serious effort”, and commended the leadership of the RCSI for “embracing this change” – a contrast to the response Leo Varadkar received immediately after appointing his new ministers.

Although Varadkar’s changes were largely minimal, he was criticised for not appointing a more diverse cabinet, and for demoting Mary Mitchell-O’Connor from her position as jobs minister in particular.

Today, Harris defended the government’s record on gender diversity, saying that Fine gael were the first party to introduce gender quotas, and citing senior female figures in government, including deputy leader Tánaiste Francis Fitzgerald.

“Remember, we’re standing in a building where 7% of consultant [surgeons] are women,” he said in repsonse to the comparison.

But he admitted that there was “an awful lot more to do” in promoting women in politics and said that both he and the Taoiseach were committed to change in the number of female representatives in both the Dáil and Cabinet.

Chair of the report

President of the RCSI Professor John Hyland tasked the chair of the Working Group on Gender Diversity Deborah McNamara with the report.

She opened the launch of the report with a speech on when she needed surgery, and said that the gender of the surgeon didn’t matter to her.

But diversity in the healthcare sector can be beneficial to patient outcomes. Dr Avril Hutch, head of the RCSI’s new Diversity and Equality Unit, said that studies have shown female and male trainees to have slightly different skills and approaches, which benefits patient outcomes.

Career flexibility, encouraging women to go for promotions, and supporting women through pregnancy were all discussed as important focus points of the report’s research.

You can read the report Progress: Promoting Gender Equality in Surgery here.

Read: ‘Don’t keep it a secret’: One in five female doctors has been sexually harassed at work

Read: ‘It’s the smart thing to do’: Canadian PM gives Varadkar advice on gender balance

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