The long-awaited Women’s Health Strategy was published last week by the Government. Whilst this is promising in terms of formally recognising the huge gender health gap that exists, it is key that what is promised comes to fruition, and does not end up as a series of empty reassurances.
Although the creation of a pre-payment certificate for HRT, meaning that women will only need to pay the equivalent of two single prescription charges for their medication each year, is a step in the right direction, it has been delayed and is now promised ‘by April 2023’. Add to this that access to HRT in the first place is patchy, with many women still struggling to get it even prescribed, I can’t see things improving as quickly as they should; although making vaginal oestrogen tablets available over the counter is a highlight that should prove easy to implement with more pace. Changes such as extending the provision of abortion pills at home, key in resisting the roll back on women’s reproductive rights that we have recently witnessed in the US, are a positive too.
Although the strategy includes the provision that parents who have lost a child before 24 weeks will have their loss recognised through the introduction of a pregnancy loss certificate in England, charity Tommy’s reports that there are no plans currently to pledge to create an official record of miscarriage data to help understand the true scale of this across the UK; rather voluntary pregnancy loss certificates will be made available to families, which is not comparable to requiring health services to officially record miscarriages.
Specific teaching and assessments on women’s health for medical students graduating from 2024/25 and for all incoming doctors, which unbelievably are still not a requirement, are set to be introduced. This will at least give women’s health more prominence and move away from the outdated model of seeing the female body as merely a variation on the male.
But debilitating diseases such as fibromyalgia and chronic UTI have not been mentioned in the new strategy, despite patient groups and specialists lobbying hard and responding in significant numbers to the consultation before the strategy was published.
Charity The Fertility Network is mainly positive about the strategy helping to provide better access to IVF, but says: “We would have liked to have seen a clear strategy for ending the current geographical variations…For most women, the first step in their fertility journey is visiting their GP. Yet far too often women’s worries about their menstrual cycle and fertility are dismissed; we hope this new look at women’s health, including a focus on the education and training of doctors, will prove beneficial for women and their partners in the future.”
So is this new strategy on women’s health just paying lip service, with little progress made on understanding the real issues at play within women’s health, or will we see worthwhile implementation, consistency of care and, crucially, the adequate funding to make change a reality? Only time will tell.
What to watch
A qualitative study of patient experiences of urogynaecology health services in the UK – read more here.
The Nice strategy 2021 to 2026 – read more here.
The National Bereavement Care Pathway – read more here.
Nice menopause guideline update – read more here.
Image credit: Gabriela Sanda from Pixabay