The women’s health strategy for England has been published by the Department of Health and Social Care after nearly 100,000 women came forward to share their experiences.
The 127-page strategy will focus on seven key areas, which relate to conditions or aspects of health where the public consultation highlighted particular issues.
Menstrual health and gynaecology
Ministers will update the “service specification” for severe endometriosis this year to better define the standards of care that women can expect on the NHS. This will ensure specialist services have access to the most up-to-date evidence and advice, and will improve standards of care for women with severe endometriosis.
In the consultation, menstrual health was the most popular topic for respondents aged 16-17 when asked what they would include in the strategy, while gynaecological conditions were the leading choice of those aged 18-29. Women have been promised more discussions around pain relief before undergoing some procedures, such as fitting an intrauterine device, which can often be extremely painful.
Fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support
There will be a drive to end the “postcode lottery” in access to IVF treatment, where some NHS areas offer one cycle and others three, and there are barriers to treatment based on criteria such as whether a person has a child from a previous relationship. Barriers to IVF for female same-sex couples will also be removed.
Parents who lose a child before 24 weeks will be recognised with a pregnancy-loss certificate. This new voluntary initiative aims to provide comfort and validation, and an “important acknowledgment” of a life lost. Fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support were the primary concerns for women aged 30-39.
Ministers have appointed Madelaine McTernan, the director general of the Covid-19 vaccine taskforce, to improve the HRT supply chain. HRT access has improved since earlier this year but it remains a problem in some areas.
Under the strategy, boys and girls will 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 lessons.
Mental health and wellbeing
Women flagged that they would like access to mental health services to be improved and that they had struggled to access care and support during the pandemic. The strategy offers little new in this area, however, simply restating the government’s pledge to invest £2.3bn in mental health services in real terms by 2023-24.
A further £10m in funding will finance 25 new mobile breast-screening units, to be deployed in the areas with the greatest challenges of uptake and coverage.
The strategy says non-binary people with female reproductive organs should always receive screening invites so they can access cervical and breast cancer screening.
Health effects of violence against women and girls
Ministers will publish a definition of trauma-informed practice for use in the health sector and encourage this to be adopted in health settings, to help address barriers to accessing services that people affected by trauma such as domestic violence or psychological abuse can experience, ensuring they can access the care they need.
Healthy ageing and long-term conditions
Healthy ageing was the leading issue for women aged 60 and above, according to the consultation. A £3m national reconditioning programme will encourage older women to build up muscle strength and resume some of the activities they undertook before the pandemic.