A vision document on a strategy for women’s health in England will be published by the Department of Health and Social Care on Thursday after nearly 100,000 women came forward to share their healthcare experiences.
The document will set out initial government commitments on women’s health, recognising that system-wide changes are needed to tackle “decades of gender health inequality”. The final plan – the Women’s Health Strategy – will be published in the spring.
The Women’s Health Strategy is expected to include a focus on six key areas, the Guardian has learned. These “priority areas” relate to specific conditions or areas of health where the public consultation highlighted particular issues.
Menstrual health and gynaecological conditions
In the consultation, menstrual health was the topic most chosen by respondents aged 16-17 for inclusion in the Women’s Health Strategy, and gynaecological conditions was the No 1 topic selected by those aged 18-29.
Women said they “persistently needed to advocate for themselves” and to push for further investigation in order to secure a diagnosis, speaking to doctors on multiple occasions over many months or years for conditions such as endometriosis. These delays often had wider ramifications for their health and quality of life.
Fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support
Fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support was the most cited topic for women aged 30-39. Responses covered a wide range of issues, including contraception, preconception health, fertility and infertility, pregnancy loss and stillbirth, support for expectant and new mothers and their partners, pelvic floor health, and patient experience and safety.
Information was another key theme, with calls for more information on the causes of infertility, the likelihood of a successful pregnancy at a later age, information relating to women’s health before pregnancy, and the realistic success rates of fertility treatments. Another key issue raised was miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
The menopause was the most selected topic for women aged 40-59.
Only 9% of respondents felt that they had enough information on the menopause. Another important theme was access to treatment, with women reporting that symptoms were not taken seriously or recognised as the menopause, and that there were difficulties in accessing HRT, with some GPs reluctant to prescribe it.
Healthy ageing and long-term conditions
Healthy ageing was the top topic for women aged 60 and over. Women also said that they would like the Women’s Health Strategy to cover long-term conditions such as musculoskeletal conditions, heart disease and stroke.
There was also a demand for action on specific conditions that are more prevalent in women or where there are disparities in access to service or outcomes, such as osteoporosis. Some responses also said health in the workplace could be a particular challenge for older women, who may experience menopause symptoms, and who may have caring responsibilities.
Mental health was in the top five most popular topics selected by women for inclusion in the Women’s Health Strategy, and was consistent across every age group.
Overall, 65% of women felt comfortable talking to friends about mental health conditions. But the issue was commonly cited when women were asked to give an example of an area in which they felt that they had not been listened to by a healthcare professional.
Women flagged that they would like to see improved access to mental health services, and that they had struggled to access mental health services and support during the pandemic. Some also said that better mental health support in the workplace would help them to reach their full potential.
The health impact of violence against women and girls
Women told the consultation that the effects of domestic abuse and violence on women’s health were wide ranging and extensive, and had a long-term effect on their physical and mental health.
There was a call for health settings to be a trusted environment that provided a primary way for victims and survivors to access support. In the survey, only 9% of respondents felt that they had enough information about specialist NHS services such as female genital mutilation clinics or sexual assault referral areas.