A year on from its flagship Women’s Health Strategy, the government is today announcing a significant package of new measures to boost the health and wellbeing of women and girls.
A raft of actions are also being taken to support women and their families through the unbearable and devastating impacts of pregnancy loss.
Hundreds of thousands of women have already directly benefited from the strategy and, building on its success, the government has announced the launch of a women’s health area on the NHS website. To support women’s health at every stage of their lives, the new dedicated area will bring together over 100 topics on women’s health. It will sit alongside a brand new hormone replacement therapy (HRT) hub on the site, and will enable women and girls of all ages to access important information about their health easily. It will provide information for women on a range of health issues including periods, gynaecological conditions, fertility, pregnancy, heart health and cancers.
The government has also ensured the NHS website now contains a page specifically on adenomyosis (which causes heavy or painful periods) – including information about symptoms and the treatment currently available.
The brand new hub for HRT has been launched on the NHS website to help women manage menopausal symptoms and it will also help those who need it to easily find information on different types of HRT and decide which medicine is most suited to them.
Alongside the new website, to further boost women’s and girls’ health and wellbeing, the government has announced:
- the development of a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool to identify early risks in maternity units. The government will host an event where clinicians and data scientists will collaborate to harness the power of AI to analyse vast amounts of data, helping to identify any concerning trends in maternity units
- £25 million will be distributed across England so every area can create a women’s health hub, with each integrated care board (ICB) set to receive £595,000 to meet local women’s health and wellbeing needs
- greater IVF transparency through an accessible new tool on GOV.UK to allow people to look up information about NHS-funded IVF treatment in their area
- the Women’s Health Ambassador for England, Professor Dame Lesley Regan, has formed a new network of women’s health champions – made up of senior leadership in every local care system and co-chaired with NHS England – who will use their leadership and experience to drive forward wider work to improve women’s health.
Minister for Women’s Health Maria Caulfield said:
A year on from the launch of our women’s health strategy, we have much progress to celebrate. Over 300,000 more women have accessed cheaper HRT, new women’s health hubs are popping up across the country and we’re adding a dedicated women’s health area to the NHS website. But there is plenty more to do.
Our work continues to support women through the agony of pregnancy loss. I’d like to thank all the brave and inspiring women who have campaigned tirelessly for change as well as the review leads Zoe Clark-Coates and Samantha Collinge, who carried out this really important review.
We will keep working and investing so girls and women across the country can benefit from the world-class healthcare they deserve.
The government has listened to women who have campaigned for greater action on pregnancy loss and will now go further to help them tackle the heartbreak, pain and devastation that it can cause.
In response to the independent Pregnancy Loss Review – carried out by Zoe Clark-Coates MBE (founder and CEO of The Mariposa Trust) and Samantha Collinge (Lead Bereavement Midwife at the George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust) – into the care and support available to women when baby loss occurs before 24 weeks gestation, the government is taking action to support women and their families and to help them through the trauma of such an experience.
Review leads will continue to work with the government as it implements the recommendations.
A voluntary pregnancy loss certificate will be available to parents from Baby Loss Awareness Week (9 to 15 October 2023) to help parents through their pain and provide a form of comfort and acknowledgement. Given the importance of them feeling comfortable and respected over this summer, the certificate will be tested with 1,000 bereaved families who will be able to advise government on the application process. Those involved with testing this summer will be able to receive a certificate themselves.
The government is focused on ensuring that bereaved parents feel able to navigate the complexities of the healthcare system and will put an emphasis on supporting them through their grief, recognising their loss, acknowledging their pain and ensuring they feel heard.
Extensive work will also begin to explore more sensitive processes for women who experience the tragedy of pregnancy loss in their own home, at weekends or late in the evening. Finding somewhere to safely and respectfully keep fetal tissue should not add to an already difficult time.
NHS England will carry out an important review into the current provision of cold storage facilities at early pregnancy assessment units and A&E services. This will help government understand the level of funding needed to ensure women have 24/7 access to these units, so they aren’t expected to use their own refrigerators if they don’t want to, but have access to cold storage and clinical resources – even if it’s a weekend or evening.
Parents, clinicians and relevant design experts will also work together at speed to create a bespoke holder for storage and safekeeping that can be used by women and families when such tragic loss occurs. This will ensure the tissue can be placed and kept in something with due dignity and respect. The Human Tissue Authority will make any necessary updates to its guidance on the proper and respectful disposal of pregnancy tissue by March 2024.
Recurring miscarriage and pregnancy loss can also have a devastating impact. To ensure as few women as possible have to experience this heart-rending pain more than once, the charity Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research at Birmingham Women and Children’s Hospital will now launch a 3-month pilot exploring a ‘graded model’ of miscarriage care. Women will receive testing and advice following a first, second or third miscarriage, so they can identify any medical conditions they may have, help prevent further loss, and inform other women. The government will evaluate the outcomes of the pilot at the end of this year.
Zoe Clark-Coates MBE BCAh, founder and CEO The Mariposa Trust, and co-chair of the Pregnancy Loss Review said:
Over the past 5 years, it has been my honour to co-chair and write the Pregnancy Loss Review. The 73 recommendations that Sam and I have submitted within the review offer a real opportunity to revolutionise baby loss care in England. My passion and long-term commitment is to help all bereaved families, and by the implementation of these recommendations, I believe we will make great strides in addressing the disparities in the care, support, education and training that currently exist.
I would like to thank the minister and government for their swift response, support and commitment to action all the recommendations over the short, medium and long-term. Change is not going to happen overnight, but I am reassured that there is the desire and commitment to provide compassionate care and clinical excellence.
I look forward to assisting the health minister with the implementation of the recommendations over the coming months and years, and ensuring that the work of this review, and the spirit of the recommendations are upheld.
Samantha Collinge, Bereavement Lead Midwife, George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust and co-chair of the Pregnancy Loss Review said:
The Pregnancy Loss Review and its recommendations offer a real opportunity to radically improve the care experience of parents and their families experiencing baby loss and I feel enormously privileged to have been able to co-lead this piece of work.
I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the bereaved parents who so freely shared with us their often harrowing stories of loss through their own desire to see and bring about change.
Similarly, Zoe and I are indebted to the countless passionate and dedicated healthcare professionals, organisations and charities who sacrifice their own psychological wellbeing on a daily basis in working with and striving to improve care for families experiencing baby loss.
I look forward to working with the government to drive these recommendations forward and ensure that that this vital learning from families and care providers is suitably implemented.
Professor Dame Lesley Regan, Women’s Health Ambassador said:
A huge amount has been achieved in the strategy’s first year – from developing tools, identifying funding, piloting local health hubs, prioritising information on the NHS website and improving access to HRT – together we are making a real difference to the lives of so many women.
This is just the beginning, and every conversation about women’s health is a step towards closing the gender health gap.
The enthusiasm of all those involved makes it clear that everyone wants to get this right for women and girls, and I look forward to continuing to drive this forward in the coming years.
Charlotte McArdle, Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England, said:
For too long, too many women’s pain has been misunderstood or downplayed and the NHS is committed to finding new ways to ensure their health is prioritised.
Today, we will launch a new dedicated online health microsite, which brings all information on the NHS website about women’s health into one place, making it as easy as possible to access the latest advice.
New pages about adenomyosis and HRT have also been added to the NHS website to provide women with information on both issues, and we’ll continue to make updates to other content in the future to make sure it reflects the latest guidance from NICE and feedback from patients.
We will also work with the government to scope the recommendations from the Pregnancy Loss Review.
Since the launch of the NHS HRT prescription payment certificate in April this year, over 300,000 certificates for HRT have already been purchased – both via the website and in pharmacies. As a result of these new certificates, it’s been estimated women have saved over around £9 million in prescription charges for the year, with the average person saving £30 for a year’s supply.
The government has also invested £53 million into the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) programmes to support women’s health, since April 2022 – including research on male violence against women and girls, and a call for further research into testosterone as a treatment for menopause symptoms.