Women are being encouraged to share their experiences of the health and care system via a call for evidence aimed at improving healthcare for women.
Launching to coincide with International Women’s Day, the call for evidence will form the basis of a landmark government-led Women’s Health Strategy, to improve the health and wellbeing of women across England and place women’s voices at the centre of their care.
By better understanding women’s experiences, the government say they can ensure key parts of the health service are meeting women’s needs as they should be.
Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said:
The call for evidence has been designed to be user friendly, quick to fill in and easily accessible from people’s mobiles. People who live with and care for women, organisations with experience of providing services for women and those with an expertise in women’s health are also encouraged to share their views.
Nadine Dorries, Minister for Women’s Health, said:
The 6 core-themes included in the call for evidence are:
1. Placing women’s voices at the centre of their health and care – how the health and care system engages with and listens to women at the individual level as well as at the system level.
2. Improving the quality and accessibility of information and education on women’s health – women having access to high-quality information when they need to make a decision, increasing health literacy, as well as increasing awareness and understanding of women’s health conditions among clinicians.
3. Ensuring the health and care system understands and is responsive to women’s health and care needs across the life course – supporting women to maximise their health across their lives, and ensuring services are designed to maximise benefits for women.
4. Maximising women’s health in the workplace – deepening our understanding of how women’s health issues can affect their workforce participation and outcomes, both with regards to female-specific issues such as the menopause, but also conditions that are more prevalent in women such as musculoskeletal conditions, depression or anxiety
5. Ensuring that research, evidence and data support improvements in women’s health – inclusion of women and women’s health in research and data collection and how that information is used, and driving participation in clinical trials to support improvements in women’s health.
6. Understanding and responding to the impacts of COVID-19 on women’s health – supporting women through the unique challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic.
There is strong evidence of the need for greater focus on women’s health:
- Although female life expectancy is higher than men in the UK, women on average spend less of their life in good health compared with men. Female life expectancy in this country has been improving more slowly than male life expectancy since the 1980s
- Less is known about conditions that only affect women, including common gynaecological conditions which can have severe impacts on health and wellbeing, but for which there is currently little treatment. A key example of this is endometriosis with the average time for a woman to receive a diagnosis being 7 to 8 years, and with 40% of women needing 10 or more GP appointments before being referred to a specialist
- There is also evidence that the impact of female-specific health conditions such as heavy menstrual bleeding, endometriosis, pregnancy-related issues and the menopause on women’s lives is overlooked. This includes the effect they can have on women’s workforce participation, productivity, and outcomes
- High-quality research and evidence is essential to delivering improvements in women’s health, yet studies suggest gender biases in clinical trials and research are contributing to worse health outcomes for women. Although women make up 51% of the population, there is less evidence and data on how conditions affect women differently. A University of Leeds study showed women with a total blockage of a coronary artery were 59% more likely to be misdiagnosed than men, and found that UK women had more than double the rate of death in the 30 days following heart attack compared with men.
Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch said:
Women also face varying health issues over the course of their life. The biggest causes of death for women range from suicide in adolescence, to breast cancer in middle age, and dementia in older age – all of which lead to different interactions with the health service.
Women of all ages and backgrounds are being urged to respond to the call for evidence in order to capture the varying health issues women experience over their lives and the significant differences between women in terms of access to services, experience of services and health outcomes.
The call for evidence seeks to examine experiences of the whole health and care system, including mental health, addiction services and neurological conditions as well as issues relating specifically to women such as gynaecological conditions, menopause and pregnancy and post-natal support.