As the NHS undergoes extensive restructuring under the government’s reform plans, the organisation has an excellent opportunity to address issues of equality in the workplace, particularly in regards to gender.

That is according to Dr Penny Newman, who works with the NHS Leadership Academy to help tackle the under-representation of women doctors at leadership level.

Writing for the Guardian, she explained that despite women making up the majority of entrants to medical school, they are significantly underrepresented in senior roles in the NHS, making up only 38 per cent of GP partners, 31 per cent of hospital consultants, and 11 per cent of consultant surgeons.

“They are in a significant minority in more senior leadership roles, including on the new clinical commissioning groups where about 20 per cent of the new GP leaders are female, not to mention under representation among hospital medical directors and on Royal College committees,” wrote Dr Newman.

Under the government’s proposed NHS reforms, greater power would be put in the hands of doctors, with Primary Care Trusts and strategic health authorities being abolished.

Dr Newman argues that this will make it easier for women to take up leadership positions within the organisations.

“As the NHS goes through major structural upheaval, we have a great opportunity to make changes for the better,” she said.

“For the NHS, women doctors are only the tip of the iceberg. But they are a growing and influential part, and clinical leadership lies at the heart of the NHS reforms.

“Promoting their career and leadership development will bring better value.”

Greater gender equality will benefit patients as well as improve the leadership decisions of the NHS as a whole, claims Dr Newman.

“Women at senior levels will inspire the next generation of doctors, the majority of whom will be women; and research suggests they make safer decisions, are better communicators, and are more patient centred,” she said.

“Women doctors are more likely to understand the needs of women – who are the main consumers of health care, especially in old age.”