The Government has released its plan for tackling health gender inequality in England, focusing on issues such as the menopause and medical stigmas.
The Vision for Women’s Health has been drawn up following Government research that found at least eight in 10 women have felt they were not listened to by healthcare professionals, and that services for specialities or conditions only affecting women are a lower priority than other services.
More than 110,000 responses were received between March and June 2021 in England, almost 100,000 of which were from individuals, while there were more than 400 written responses from organisations.
Many also felt that damaging taboos and stigmas in women’s health prevented them from seeking help, and over half of respondents said they felt uncomfortable talking about health issues with their workplace.
Nearly two in three respondents with a health condition or disability said they do not feel supported by the services available, while, according to the research, the majority of women believe compulsory training for GPs on women’s health – including the menopause – is needed to ensure their needs are met.
In response to the findings, the Minister for Women’s Health Maria Caulfield said: “The responses from the call for evidence were in many ways as expected, particularly with regards to women’s priorities, but in some places the revelations were shocking.
“It is not right that over three quarters of women feel the healthcare service has not listened. This must be addressed.
“Many of the issues raised require long-term system wide changes, but we must start somewhere. I am proud to publish our vision for women’s health.”
These Government plans aim to ensure women feel comfortable talking about all aspects of their health and are supported, both in the workplace and by health services.
It also aims to ensure that all women have access to high quality health education throughout their lives, and to services that correctly meet their needs.
The plans also include embedding routine collection of demographic data of participants in research trials to ensure research collected reflects all of society.
A Women’s Health Ambassador will also be appointed, tasked with raising the profile of women’s health, increasing awareness on taboo topics, and supporting the Government in implementing strategy.
A key change to policy will be the banning of Hymenoplasty at the earliest opportunity, a practise which reconstructs a woman’s hymen.
This decision came after a recommendation from an independent expert panel, as the process is intrinsically linked to virginity testing and reinforces outdated attitudes towards a woman’s sexuality.
Banning virginity testing was also one of the commitments in the Government’s Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.
In line with these aims, the Government has recently made moves to increase the accessibility of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), a medication which offsets the symptoms of menopause.
The cost of HRT prescriptions will be cut, by implementing longer prescribing cycles so that women will need fewer prescriptions and therefore pay less.
As well as reducing the cost burden for menopausal women, the Government is also establishing a UK-wide menopause taskforce to investigate how women going through the menopause can be better supported by the health system.
Mika Simmons, co-chair of the Ginsburg Women’s Health Board, actress and host of The Happy Vagina podcast, said: “It is incredibly exciting to see the results of this consultation, supported by over a hundred thousand women. It is, however, just the beginning.
“Women’s health care has been side-lined for far too long and a seismic shift now needs to happen, to correct the historical lack of efficient care. We must work together to eliminate the misunderstanding, chronic pain and loss that so many of us have suffered.”