NHS is not meeting women’s health needs
For example, women with a total blockage of a coronary artery are 59 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed than men, and they have more than double the rate of death in the 30 days following a heart attack compared with men. Women also on average spend less of their life in good health compared with their male peers.
Now women across England are being asked to share their experiences of the health and care system via a new official investigation.
Janet Lindsay, the director of the women’s health research charity Wellbeing of Women, said: “Women make up 51 percent of the population, account for 47 percent of the workforce and influence the health behaviours of the rest of society.
“Yet women are struggling to find the information they need to ask the right questions about their health and regularly meet barriers when they attempt to book routine appointments to access basic health needs.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further exaggerated these problems and highlighted the additional difficulties that women with disabilities or living in disadvantaged communities are facing.
“The research landscape is also bleak. Women’s health research has not been prioritised, which means there are still important gaps in our knowledge and a lack of effective treatment options across all areas of women’s health.”
There is strong evidence of the need for greater focus on women’s health, experts say.
Common gynaecological conditions which only hit women can have severe impacts on health and wellbeing, but there is currently little treatment for many of them.
Endometriosis – where the tissue starts to grow outside of the womb – has an average diagnosis time of between seven and eight years.
Forty percent of women need 10 or more GP appointments before being referred to a specialist.
Mika Simmons, the co-chairman of Ginsberg Women’s Health Board, said: “Every single woman I speak to, myself included, has experienced either misunderstanding or loss as a direct result of slow or inaccurate diagnosis of their health concerns.
“I’m delighted this gender health gap – which grew out of a severe lack of historical research into women’s health issues – is not only finally being acknowledged but that steps are being taken to correct it.
Women are being failed by the NHS
“I hope this new Government drive for thoroughly inclusive data will ensure that all women in the UK, no matter what their background or cultural demographic, will finally have their voices heard and their health needs met, at the highest possible level.”
Women logging on to the official Department of Health and Social Care website will be asked to give their experiences of six different parts of the NHS.
These include how easily available information and treatment was, attitudes towards health issues at work and how COVID-19 has impacted their health.
Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “The healthcare system needs to work for everyone, and we must address inequalities which exist within it.
“Improving women’s health, especially at older ages, is critical for a fair health and care system in the future.
“Our new Women’s Health Strategy will be a much-needed step forward to improve the health and wellbeing of women across the country.
“To build this strategy, we need to hear from those who it directly impacts. I urge all women, and those who have experiences or expertise in women’s health, to come forward and share their views with us to inform the future of this important strategy.”
The call for evidence will run for the next 12 weeks and the questionnaire can be found on the Government website.
Comment by Nadine Dorries
As a woman, mother of three daughters, former nurse, and health minister I’ve experienced our health and care system in many capacities. I’ve seen it at its very best and understand why our NHS is the envy of many worldwide.
We’re extremely lucky in the UK to have such a brilliant National Health Service with a dedicated workforce who, in the last year in particular, have shown their determination, compassion and sheer grit to keep us healthy.
We are also fortunate we don’t need to worry about the financial implications of healthcare, or its accessibility.
But I am acutely aware that our system works in different ways for different people.
We know although the life expectancy of women in the UK is longer than men, yet we spend less of our life in “good” health.
Our life expectancy is increasing at a slower rate than male life expectancy, and less is known about medical conditions which affect only women, such as endometriosis.
Not all women are the same or experience the health and care system in the same way.
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Evidence shows black women are more than four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women, and Asian women are twice as likely to die
Women from black, Asian and ethnic minority groups, LGBT women and disabled women are often underrepresented in clinical trials and a number of health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease have greater prevalence and impact in specific ethnic groups.
That is why I have announced our intention to create the first government-led Women’s Health Strategy which will be informed by the lived experiences of women, people who live with and care for women, organisations providing services for women and those with expertise in women’s health, to improve the health and wellbeing outcomes of women in England.
Through our call for evidence, we’re asking women of all ages and backgrounds to share their experiences of the health and care system with us.
We want to hear about all aspects of health and care from education to research, fertility issues to mental health.
We also want to know what women think the strategy should focus on, so we can develop something which truly works for those it will affect.
This is about trying to understand the journeys women have gone through in our health and care system, both good and bad, so we can listen and learn.
I want women from all backgrounds, of all ages, ethnic groups and sexualities to use their voices to help us deliver something that will mean real change in the way they interact with the health and care system.
This is a once in a generation opportunity to place women at the centre of health and care reform, and every voice is vital.
Nadine Dorries is Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety