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Women now form more than half the readership of HSJ. This is an indication of the growing presence of women, not just in health service management jobs but in medicine, too.

A Department of Health statistical bulletin on the medical workforce in hospital, public health and community health services shows that, in the past decade, the proportion of women has risen from 26 to 33 per cent (see graph).

From a quarter to a third of the workforce might not seem a great increase, but the figure conceals some dramatic changes.

Among consultants, for instance, there has been a 50 per cent rise - from 14 to 21 per cent.

Women now make up more than half of all house officers, and are a majority among registrars in paediatrics, psychiatry and oncology - where the proportion of women more than doubled from 26 to 59 per cent between 1988 and 1998.

Even the male bastion of surgery is slowly crumbling: just 5 per cent of consultants are women, but in registrar grades the proportion has risen from 7 to 13 per cent in a decade.

The rise of women doctors has been eased by a substantial growth in doctor numbers over the same period - by 1998 there were 68,460 hospital and community health service doctors, up 24 per cent on a decade earlier.

The number of women has increased from 11,780 10 years ago to 20,210 today, compared with a rise in the number of men from 33,528 to 41,440.

At the same time, room at the top has been created by relatively more rapid growth in the number of consultant posts, so that the ratio of junior doctors to consultants has fallen from 1.55:1 to 1.42:1.

The rising number of women hospital doctors also has a knock-on effect on the mix of NHS contract types.

Overall, 61 per cent of doctors have full-time contracts, 20.8 per cent have maximum part-time contracts enabling them to develop their private practice, 12.2 per cent have part-time contracts, and 6 per cent honorary contracts.

But of the 16,650 male consultants, 4,730 (28 per cent) hold maximum part-time contracts and 1,190 (7 per cent) work part-time, while of the 4,390 women, 540 (12 per cent) have maximum part-time contracts and 1,080 (25 per cent) work part-time. Hospital, Public Health Medicine and Community Health Services Medical and Dental Staff in England: 1988- 98. www.doh.gov.uk/public/sb9915.htm