Alison Lannigan, a specialist registrar at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, has two children, aged four and 18 months, and - just a step away from becoming a consultant surgeon - has little time to spare.

'Keeping up with the job would be fine, if that was all, ' says Dr Lannigan. 'But I am writing my doctoral thesis, I have to write scientific papers and I am trying to study for the exam I need to pass to become a consultant. To get all of this done and spend time with my family when I get home from work is very difficult.'

Her working hours are from 8am 'until we finish'. She says: 'I am doing breast surgery and it all depends on what happens in theatre.'

She also covers one weekend a month and one night a week. 'You have to be very well organised, ' she says, 'but I couldn't do it without the help of my partner, who is an engineer, not a doctor, and can cover the nights, and my parents, who look after the children during the day.'

So that she can drop the children off with her parents at 7.10am, Dr Lannigan has had to move to the country to be nearer them, which means a long commute to work.

But she felt she had little choice other than to have her children when she did.

'When I started training, the average age of a consultant surgeon was 38, which meant I was looking at starting a family when I was 40. I had a research job when I was 27 and could take things a little easier, so we decided to have the family then.'

The idea of flexible training did not appeal. 'It is supposed to offer half the hours for half the pay, with double the time to complete the training. But a friend who is an obstetric registrar with small children gave up flexible training because she said she was being taken advantage of dreadfully and was working as many hours as her full-time colleagues. Flexible training is probably only satisfactory if you are able to jobshare.'

Despite the lack of time, Dr Lannigan enjoys surgery 'enormously' and has no hesitation in encouraging other women to enter the profession.