Doctors are to undergo training in women’s health as part of a new 10-year Women’s Health Strategy for England.
The Government has set an ambition to ensure “women and girls feel listened to and have their concerns taken seriously at every stage of their journey”, from discussions about symptoms to treatments and follow-up care.
It comes after 84% of people who responded to a Government consultation said women often feel ignored or not listened to when they seek help from the NHS for their health.
As part of the reforms, trainee medics will face assessments from the General Medical Council (GMC) on women’s health, with topics including the menopause, obstetrics and gynaecology.
Women's health issues such as menstrual health, contraception and menopause (should) no longer (be) taboo subjects
Women's Health Strategy
Those undergoing specialist training, such as to become a GP or physiotherapist, will also have teaching on women’s health, while existing doctors could take extra courses to top up their learning.
“As a result, more doctors will have a better baseline understanding of women’s health,” the strategy said.
In a raft of commitments, the strategy said transgender men and non-binary people with female reproductive organs should always receive screening invites so they can access cervical and breast cancer screening.
Both boys and girls will also be taught about women’s health, including the menopause, “from an early age”, with schools asked not to segregate them for Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) lessons.
This will improve awareness of women’s health in society and ensure “women’s health issues such as menstrual health, contraception and menopause are no longer taboo subjects,” the strategy said.
Another ambition is to end “taboos and stigmas which reinforce beliefs among women, health and care professionals and wider society that health problems or painful symptoms – in particular ‘hidden pain’ which could be a symptom of gynaecological conditions – are normal and something to be endured.”
This is the Government’s first Women’s Health Strategy for England and shows how we will right these wrongs
Women's Health Strategy
Women have also been promised more discussions around pain relief before undergoing some procedures, such as intrauterine device (IUD) contraceptive fitting, which can often be extremely painful.
The strategy further promises to expand women’s health hubs and “one-stop clinics”, which are so far up and running in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Hampshire and Hackney.
These services are not organised by individual condition or issue, but instead look at women’s life stage, such as offering both menopause help and contraception to women over the age of 40.
Other strategy commitments include reducing waiting times for women’s health, including the time taken to get a diagnosis for endometriosis.
Workplaces should also become places where women feel supported as they go through infertility, miscarriage and menopause.
All too often it forces women to navigate their way around multiple different health professionals and facilities trying to access basic services to maintain their health and wellbeing
Dame Lesley Regan
In a foreword to the strategy, Health Secretary Steve Barclay and health minister, Maria Caulfield, said the vast majority of people in the consultation had not felt properly listened to.
They said: “This is the Government’s first Women’s Health Strategy for England and shows how we will right these wrongs.
“It sets out how we will improve the way in which the health and care system listens to women’s voices, and boost health outcomes for women and girls.”
The report said that, while women make up 51% of the population, “historically the health and care system has been designed by men, for men.”
It added: “This ‘male as default’ approach has been seen in research and clinical trials, education and training for healthcare professionals, and the design of healthcare policies and services.
“This has led to gaps in our data and evidence base which mean that that not enough is known about conditions that only affect women, for example menopause or endometriosis.”
It is not right that 51% of our population are disadvantaged in accessing the care they need, simply because of their sex
Health Secretary Steve Barclay
Women’s health ambassador, Dame Lesley Regan, said the strategy was an opportunity to “reset the dial on women’s health”.
She added: “The call for evidence, which informs the ambitions of the strategy, reiterates what I hear repeatedly from women – that our healthcare systems are failing them because NHS services are not designed to meet women’s day-to-day needs.
“All too often it forces women to navigate their way around multiple different health professionals and facilities trying to access basic services to maintain their health and wellbeing.
“The irony is that their care can easily be provided more conveniently and at significantly lower cost during a single visit to a women’s health hub or centre, if we adopt a ‘one-stop-shop’ model.”
Under the plans, parents who have experienced pregnancy loss before 24 weeks will be able to receive a certificate to provide recognition of their loss.
The NHS website will also have its women’s health section overhauled and expanded, while £10 million will provide 25 new mobile breast screening units for regions that have lower screening uptake.
Female same-sex couples will also no longer be required to pay for artificial insemination to prove their fertility status, while NHS treatment for female same-sex couples will start with six cycles of artificial insemination before going on to IVF.
There will also be a drive to end the “postcode lottery” in access to IVF treatment, which currently sees some NHS areas offering one cycle and others three, and sees barriers to treatment based on criteria such as whether a person has a child from a previous relationship.
Mr Barclay said: “Our health and care system only works if it works for everyone.
“It is not right that 51% of our population are disadvantaged in accessing the care they need, simply because of their sex.
“The publication of this strategy is a landmark moment in addressing entrenched inequalities and improving the health and wellbeing of women across the country.”