New women’s health strategy to ‘reset the dial’

Among proposals to ‘reset the dial’ on women’s health are training for doctors and hubs across the NHS

Ministers have vowed to tackle decades of “systemic” and “entrenched” gender health inequality in England with plans to introduce compulsory women’s health training for doctors, more cancer checks and “one-stop shop” hubs across the NHS.

Access to contraception, IVF, maternity support and mental health services will also be improved, the government has pledged in its first women’s health strategy.

Baby-loss certificates will be offered to those losing a child before 24 weeks and a national fitness programme will encourage older women to build muscle strength and keep active.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said: “It is not right that 51% of our population are disadvantaged in accessing the care they need, simply because of their sex.

“The publication of this strategy is a landmark moment in addressing entrenched inequalities and improving the health and wellbeing of women across the country.”

Women live longer than men on average but spend about a quarter of their lives in poor health, compared with a fifth for men. The 127-page strategy says that “historically, the health and care system has been designed by men, for men”.

There is also a health gap between women in deprived areas and those in wealthier parts of the country.

The Guardian revealed in April that women in the poorest areas of England are dying earlier than the average woman in almost every comparable country.

Originally due last year, then rescheduled for the spring, the government’s 10-year women’s health strategy will be published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on Wednesday. Another government health strategy – on health disparities – was due to be published this week but is likely to be delayed until after the summer.

Almost 100,000 women took part in the consultation. Maria Caulfield, the women’s health minister, said some of their experiences were shocking.

“When we launched our call for evidence to inform the publication of this strategy, women across the country set us a clear mandate for change,” she said. “Tackling the gender health gap will not be easy – there are deep-seated, systemic issues we must address to ensure women receive the same standards of care as men, universally and by default.”

Under the strategy, new research on women’s health issues will be commissioned to raise understanding of female-specific health conditions and “tackle the data gap” to ensure diagnoses and treatments work better for women. The women’s health section on the NHS website will be overhauled and expanded.

Parents who experience pregnancy loss before 24 weeks will be offered a certificate to recognise this. The government is also investing £10m in the NHS breast-screening programme to provide 25 new mobile breast-screening units.

All doctors will be trained to provide better care to women, with mandatory teaching and assessment on women’s health for all medical students and incoming doctors.

Thousands of women told the consultation that they “persistently needed to advocate for themselves” and had to push for further investigation in order to secure a diagnosis.

The delays often have ramifications for their health and quality of life. Of those who responded to the consultation, 84% said they often feel ignored or not listened to when they seek help from the NHS.

Trainee medics will be assessed by the General Medical Council on women’s health, with topics including the menopause, obstetrics and gynaecology.

Those undergoing specialist training, such as to become a GP or physiotherapist, will have teaching on women’s health, while existing doctors could take extra courses to improve their knowledge.

The strategy says: “We heard concerns that women had not been listened to in instances where pain is the main symptom, for example, being told that heavy and painful periods are ‘normal’ or that the woman will ‘grow out of them’.

“Women also told us about speaking to doctors on multiple occasions over many months or years before receiving a diagnosis for conditions such as endometriosis.”

The strategy promises to expand women’s health hubs, which are so far up and running in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Hampshire, and Hackney in London, and enable women to access support, advice and treatment for a range of issues.

The government’s women’s health ambassador, Dame Lesley Regan, said the strategy is an opportunity to “reset the dial on women’s health” after decades of NHS services “failing” women.


Andrew Gregory Health editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Are there enough concrete commitments in the women’s health strategy to truly ‘reset the dial’?
Analysis: While elements of the strategy are thoughtful and will make a meaningful difference, others have either appeared out of the blue or slipped from view entirely

Hannah Devlin Science Correspondent

19, Jul, 2022 @11:01 PM

Article image
What are the key areas of England’s women’s health strategy?
Nearly 100,000 women flagged up issues ranging from menstrual health to menopause in consultation

Andrew Gregory Health editor

19, Jul, 2022 @11:01 PM

Article image
Dismissal of women’s health problems as ‘benign’ leading to soaring NHS lists
Exclusive: Gender bias means debilitating gynaecological conditions are played down, says RCOG president

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

02, Jun, 2022 @2:30 PM

Article image
Women in England with advanced cervical cancer to be offered new treatment
Immunotherapy drug will be available for incurable forms of disease on NHS after approval

Andrew Gregory Health editor

29, Mar, 2023 @5:00 AM

Article image
All hormonal contraceptives ‘carry small increased risk of breast cancer’
Research finds use of progestogen is associated with a 20-30% higher risk but this falls after no longer taking it

Rachel Hall

21, Mar, 2023 @6:00 PM

Article image
Women in England struggling to access contraception as result of underfunding
Report calls for women to have access to progestogen-only contraceptive pills over counter

Nicola Davis Science correspondent

10, Sep, 2020 @1:20 PM

Article image
‘The pain is inhumane’: how NHS gynaecology delays affect women’s health
Four women describe how UK waiting lists and attitudes to gynaecological symptoms have left them in agony

Amy Walker

02, Jun, 2022 @2:30 PM

Article image
Women in UK ‘seldom’ told drug used in surgery can impede contraception
Study at NHS trust finds no patients were informed of risk of unplanned pregnancy from sugammadex

Andrew Gregory Health editor

02, Jun, 2022 @10:01 PM

Article image
A strategy for women’s health in England: six areas of focus
From gynaecological conditions to healthy ageing, these are expected to be the priorities of the final plan

Andrew Gregory Health editor

23, Dec, 2021 @12:01 AM

Article image
Campaign aims to boost cervical screening rates in England
About 30% of eligible people are not adequately screened against second most common cancer in women under 35

Nicola Davis Science correspondent

14, Feb, 2022 @12:01 AM