Ministers pledged to tackle decades of ‘systemic’ and ‘entrenched’ gender health inequalities in England with plans to introduce compulsory women’s health training for doctors, more cancer checks and ‘one-stop-shop’ centers across the NHS.
Access to contraception, IVF, maternity support and mental health services will also be improved, the government pledged in its first women’s health strategy.
Baby loss certificates will be offered to those who lose a child before 24 weeks and a national fitness program will encourage older women to build muscle strength and stay active.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said: ‘It’s not fair that 51 per cent of our people are disadvantaged in accessing the care they need, just because of their gender.
“The release of this strategy is a historic moment in addressing entrenched inequalities and improving the health and well-being of women across the country.
Women live longer on average than men but spend around a quarter of their lives in poor health, compared to a fifth for men. The 127-page strategy states that “historically, the health and care system was designed by men, for men”.
There is also a health gap between women in disadvantaged areas and those in wealthier parts of the country.
The Guardian revealed in April that women in the poorest parts of England are dying earlier than the average woman in nearly every comparable country.
Originally planned last year and then postponed until spring, the government’s 10-year strategy for women’s health will be released by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on Wednesday. Another government health strategy – on health disparities – was due to be released this week but is expected to be delayed until after the summer.
Nearly 100,000 women took part in the consultation. Maria Caulfield, women’s health minister, said some of their experiences were shocking.
“When we launched our call for evidence to inform the release of this strategy, women across the country gave us a clear mandate for change,” she said. “Addressing the gender health gap will not be easy – there are deep-rooted systemic issues that we must address to ensure women receive the same standards of care as men, universally and by default.
As part of the strategy, new research on women’s health issues will be commissioned to better understand women’s specific health issues and “fill the data gap” to ensure diagnoses and treatments work better for women. women. The women’s health section on the NHS website will be revamped and expanded.
Parents who experience pregnancy loss before 24 weeks will be offered a certificate to recognize this. The government is also investing £10 million in the NHS breast screening program to provide 25 new mobile breast screening units.
All doctors will be trained to provide better care for women, with mandatory education and assessment on women’s health for all medical students and new doctors.
Thousands of women said at the consultation that they “constantly needed to defend themselves” and needed to push for further investigation in order to get a diagnosis.
Delays often have repercussions on their health and quality of life. Of those who responded to the consultation, 84% said they often felt ignored or unheard when seeking help from the NHS.
Trainee physicians will be evaluated by the General Medical Council on Women’s Health, with topics including menopause, obstetrics and gynecology.
Those undergoing specialized training, for example to become a general practitioner or a physiotherapist, will benefit from education in women’s health, while existing doctors could take additional courses to improve their knowledge.
The strategy says: ‘We heard concerns that women had not been listened to in cases where pain is the main symptom, for example when they were told that heavy and painful periods are ‘normal’ or that the woman will “come out of it”.
“Women also told us that they talked to doctors repeatedly over several months or years before being diagnosed with conditions such as endometriosis.”
The strategy promises to expand Women’s Health Centres, which are so far operational in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Hampshire and Hackney in London, and provide women with access to support, advice and treatment for a range of issues.
The government’s ambassador for women’s health, Dame Lesley Regan, said the strategy was an opportunity to ‘reset the dial on women’s health’ after decades of ‘failing’ NHS services to women.