How bad is the gender inequality gap in healthcare?

The government is aiming to “reset the dial on women’s health” and address entrenched problems within the healthcare system, from damaging stigmas to a lack of GP training on issues relating to the menopause.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)’s Vision for Women’s Health report was published today following analysis of almost 100,000 responses to a call for evidence, which gave “stark and sobering insights into women’s experiences of health and care”.

The report found that more than eight in ten women in Britain have felt as though they have not been listened to by healthcare professionals and that there is a general feeling that services for conditions that only affect women are of “lower priority” when compared with other services.

Nimco Ali, the government adviser and leading campaigner against female genital mutilation, said action was needed to address the UK’s “gender health gap”. Mika Simmons, host of The Happy Vagina podcast, called for a “seismic shift” to address women’s health care, which “has been side-lined for far too long”.

‘Decades of gender health inequality’

Writing for The Guardian, Alexandra Topping said that the gender inequality gap in healthcare starts “well before women make it to their doctor’s surgery”. Women are “routinely underrepresented in clinical trials”, she wrote, “and medical research proposed by women, for women, is not allotted the same funding as medical research proposed by men, for, you guessed it, men”.

The government has pledged to address what it described in a press release as “decades of gender health inequality”. One of the DHSC’s key commitments is the appointment of a women’s health ambassador who will “raise the profile of women’s health” and “increase awareness about taboo topics”. 

A recognition of this blatant and historic sexism in healthcare, as well as the announcement that there will be a women’s health ambassador, is “welcome”, said Topping.

Menopause taskforce needed

Another government aim is to introduce a new UK-wide menopause taskforce – a move which “rides a wave of greater understanding of a condition that affects half the population but was, until very recently, taboo”, said Topping. 

According to a survey of 32 UK medical schools by the not-for-profit organisation Menopause Support, almost half (41%) did not have a mandatory menopause education programme for their students, in spite of there being approximately 13 million perimenopausal or post-menopausal women in the UK.

Legislation will also be introduced “at the earliest opportunity” to ban hymenoplasty – a procedure undertaken to reconstruct a hymen – in a further drive to prevent violence against women and girls.

Ending stigma

In the press release, the DHSC said a major ambition of the Vision for Women’s Health is for all women to “feel comfortable talking about their health and no longer face taboos when they do talk about their health”.

According to a recent report by The Mail on Sunday, almost one million women have retired early because of the menopause – but discussing the issue in the workplace can often feel taboo.

“Six out of ten women tell us that the menopause has a significant impact on them from a work perspective and yet it’s just never talked about,” said Andy Briggs, the government’s business champion for older workers.

Hurdles ‘across every age group’

Senior NHS consultant Professor Geeta Nargund said that the results of the consultation showed “unequivocally” that the healthcare system needs more support for women’s reproductive health.

“Across every age group women face hurdles in accessing the medical care or information they need,” she added. Now the results are in, “we must work to address the issues raised and develop policies that will close the gender health gap”. 

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