Women’s health is a contentious topic which is littered with constant failings. From historically being described as ‘emotional’, to the present where their symptoms are still routinely dismissed by medical professionals to their detriment, women have long struggled to access the healthcare they need. This is evident in the Government’s own research which garnered almost 100,000 responses after a call to evidence, where 84% of women stated there have been times when they (or the woman they had in mind) were not listened to by healthcare professionals.
The Department of Health & Social Care recently published their national Women’s Health Strategy 2022 which contained commitments including ‘introducing mandatory specific teaching and assessment on women’s health for all graduating medical students and incoming doctors’, ‘addressing female specific conditions such as endometriosis with updated treatments’, and a ‘£10 million breast screening programme’.
This is a bold and ambitious strategy which will undoubtedly be welcomed by girls and women who are suffering in silence and will instil more confidence in clinicians going forward. The Women’s Health Strategy also has the go ahead from clinicians who admit there are shortcomings due to the limited ‘information and educational resources for women and healthcare professionals’ regarding women’s health. These structural issues cause women’s access to healthcare to be much more complex due to a lack of cohesion and readily accessible information.
The government’s vision stresses ‘women should have equal access to and experience of services, reducing disparities in outcomes’ and the strategy commits to ‘encouraging the expansion of Women’s Health Hubs around the country and other models of ‘one-stop clinics’, bringing essential women’s services together to support women to maintain good health and drive efficiency’.
However, there are issues which may pose problems for the Women’s Health Strategy as there are well documented disparities regionally, especially Birmingham in the West Midlands where females living in the most deprived areas were expected to live less than two-thirds of their lives in good general health. There is also a racial health conundrum across the UK as there is research indicating ‘black women are four times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth’ and ‘Asian (women) face a twofold risk’.
These issues have disappointingly not been addressed by the Women’s Health Strategy, but the new developments within women’s health are welcomed and will be scrutinised for efficiency and execution in real terms. Furthermore, ‘Covid-19 has widened health inequalities in England by disproportionately affecting those already experiencing health inequalities’ coupled with the current cost of living crisis which has seemingly entrenched women’s medical subjugation.
Unfortunately for British women of colour, the Health Disparities White Paper which was due to be published late last month will now be delayed until after the summer. The White Paper was commissioned to further inform the Women’s Health Strategy on racial medical inequalities with a review into potential ethnic bias in the design and use of medical devices.
More precariously the white paper will only go ahead if the new Conservative leader gives it the green light. Systemic reform, female focussed medical training and resource allocation needs to be not only committed to but practically enforced to ensure British women simply have the chance to live good quality lives.