The fact that women's health isn't approached the same way as men's is no secret. Back in 2016, scientific social networking site ResearchGate found that five times as much research into erectile dysfunction (which affects 19% of men) as premenstrual syndrome (which affects 90% of women).
Sadly, eight years on, not much has changed. In fact, research from digital healthcare platform Livi found that 57% of women today fear misdiagnosis, and 23% of them believe this is down to their gender.
Now, in a bid to tackle this gender health gap, the government has announced the first ever Women’s Health Strategy for England. The aim? To eradicate the gender health inequality within the NHS and improve care for women.
During the announcement, ministers pledged to address the “systemic” and “entrenched” inequality when it comes to women’s health care with the several steps, including compulsory training on diagnosing and treating female health conditions which medical students in England must pass.
The strategy is based off the results from a call for evidence last year across England, which generated over 100,000 responses from members of the public, academics, charities and campaigners.
The first strategy includes more funding for mobile breast cancer screening, and ‘one stop shop’ clinics for women’s health across the country to offer better access to healthcare and address the backlogs created by Covid.
It will also include better access to contraception, fertility care, pregnancy loss certificates, updated guidance on the treatment of severe endometriosis and funding further research into women’s health issues.
The need for this strategy is clear: women live longer from men, and spend more of their life in poor health. Despite this, women in England currently do not receive the same standards of healthcare as men.
"Tackling the gender health gap will not be easy - there are deep-seated, systematic issues we must address to ensure women receive the same standards of care as men, universally and by default,” says Maria Caulfield, Minister for Women's Health.
In order to reset this inequality, the first ever Women’s Health Strategy aims to:
Invest £10 million into a breast screening programme, which will provide 25 new mobile breast screening units targeting areas of the country where testing rates are the lowest.
Make the IVF provision more transparent for prospective parents to tackle the current “postcode lottery” and remove the additional barriers currently faced by female same-sex couples for IVF treatment.
Introduce pregnancy loss certificates to help recognise parents who have lost a child before 24 weeks.
Update the guidance on the treatment of severe endometriosis, which affects up to one in ten women
Assess trainee medics on topics such as menopause, obstetrics, and gynaecology to ensure better treatment of women’s health going forward
However, the strategy is far from a silver bullet. “This strategy is the start of that journey, but eradicating the gender health gap can’t be done through health services alone,” says Maria Caulfield. “I am calling on everyone who has the power to positively impact women’s health, from employers to doctors and teachers to industry, to join us in our journey.”
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