'Gender Gap' In Healthcare To Be Tackled
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'Gender Gap' In Healthcare To Be Tackled

Ellen Knight July 26, 2022

Across England, doctors will be required to undertake mandatory training for treating female medical conditions as part of plans to improve the provision of women’s health.

The government has committed to ensuring:

  • Expanded access to free NHS fertility treatment
  • £10 million funding for breast cancer screening to pay for mobile units in areas with low test rates
  • Updated guidance for endometriosis treatment
  • Introduction of ‘pregnancy loss certificates’, which provide legal recognition for if a pregnancy is lost within the first 24 weeks
  • Expansion of dedicated women’s health hubs for sexual health, gynaecology, and maternity services can be accessed from one location

However, critics of the plans say there is more to be done to close the ‘gender gap’ present in NHS services.

In England, women tend to live longer than men, but – according to the BBC – ‘spend more of their life in poor health, which can limit their ability to work and participate in day-to-day activities.’

A rise in gynaecology waiting lists and a shortage of hormone replacement therapy products has been blamed on sexism.

‘They will continue to face barriers’

Minister for Women’s Health, Maria Caulfield, told BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour; ‘We heard from women that the system doesn’t listen to them when they come forward and ask for help with their healthcare needs.

‘These are women often juggling jobs, young families and caring responsibilities, and unless we make it work from them they will continue to face barriers seeking help.’

Following a government consultation, many respondents aired grievances concerning ‘a lack of understanding among some medical professionals about health conditions which only affect women.’

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

For medical students, from the 2024/25 academic year onwards, there will be required teaching and assessment concerning women’s health to attempt to tackle these issues.

Speaking to the BBC, Engage Britain’s health and care programme director Miriam Levin said that ‘any steps’ to address inequalities would be welcomed, but that the ‘government had to ensure that women’s concerns would be properly listened to.’

She said: ‘We hear stories of women suffering with a vast range of problems, from endometriosis to menopause, and often feeling as though they’re dismissed or not taken seriously by some health professionals.

‘The only way this strategy can succeed is for the government to take a fresh approach – by hearing what female patients have to say, then putting their experiences at the very heart of delivering it.’

‘Postcode lottery’

Furthermore, the new plans will also see alterations to the current rules concerning fertility treatment in England:

  • Couples considering the IVF route will be able to compare NHS provisions in their immediate locality and those across the country
  • Treatment can be accessed even if one half of the couple already has a child from a previous relationship – until now, this has been hard to do
  • Same-sex female couples won’t have to pay for artificial insemination at private clinics to prove fertility issues before accessing NHS IVF services

Director of fertility charity PET, Sarah Norcross told the BBC that although these decisions were welcomed, it was ‘incredibly disappointing’ to see no plans to address the ‘postcode lottery’ of treatment across the country.

Norcross said: ‘The commitment to improve transparency in relation to the availability of IVF does not equate to giving women the chance to try to have a baby.’

The newly-appointed Health Secretary Steve Barclay stated; ‘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.”

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Ellen is a freelance journalist studying MA Broadcast Journalism at Cardiff University. Her work has appeared in publications such as Teen Vogue and Al Jazeera, and tends to focus on politics and current affairs. Her involvement in student radio station Burn FM lead to an interview she conducted winning Student Radio Moment of the Year in 2022. She has been writing for Freshered since February 2022. You can follow her on Twitter @ellenmjknight