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Hysteroscopy Trauma: Taking Women’s Pain Seriously

hysteroscopy
Lyn Brown MP

Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham and Shadow Minister for Africa

Labour MP Lyn Brown warns hysteroscopy trauma could be the next great women’s health scandal, as she calls for a dramatic improvement in patient care.

Women are being bullied into undergoing excruciating treatment, denied pain relief and forced to undergo traumatic procedures against their will.

This largely unreported abuse and mistreatment involves hysteroscopy – the insertion of a camera into the womb, to search for abnormalities. Sometimes, samples are taken from the womb’s lining.

A hysteroscopy is a potentially lifesaving procedure, used for ruling out or diagnosing cancers early, facilitating swift treatment. For too many patients, it is needlessly, horrendously painful, and utterly humiliating.

A hysteroscopy is usually done with little or no pain relief or anaesthesia. Many women are told nothing in advance about the risk of extreme pain.

Raising the issue in Parliament

As the MP for West Ham, I’ve delivered ten speeches in Parliament on this issue, over nearly a decade. I’ve been raising this in Parliament with allies from across the political divide.

Over the years, I’ve received so many stories of women being bullied into accepting procedures they would never have agreed to, had they known what was coming.

Yet, this frankly brutal treatment of women patients continues unabated in our hospitals. To say that change has been slow is to understate the case dramatically.

Ten years ago, one of my constituents, told me about her horrendous experience. Debbie was not given an anaesthetic before undergoing her hysteroscopy and was in such hideous pain during the procedure that she begged the consultant to stop. In what sounds like an incident from the Victorian era, Debbie was held down by a nurse. It rapidly became clear that what she endured was far from an isolated case. Shamefully, so little has changed over the years.

Women have been betrayed

The sheer scale of this suffering, and serious lasting harm is reminiscent of the women abominably treated in the mesh scandal.

Women are being denied information about the risks of pain, while others asking for pain relief were demeaned, told they are fussing about nothing and left feeling completely violated, humiliated, and degraded. It’s breath-taking that such barbaric treatment of women is happening in Britain’s 21st century hospitals.

Even my own recent personal experience echoes these stories. When I was referred to a gynaecologist, I was clear I would not accept a hysteroscopy without proper pain relief. I was lucky and no further investigation was needed. However, he said afterwards, his advice would have been for hysteroscopy without anaesthetic, despite the fact I was in a higher risk group for pain.

This happened to me, despite the knowledge and confidence I’ve accrued through a decade-long campaign as an MP. How are women who’ve heard nothing of the risks, supposed to assert their right to informed consent?

Good practice paper

Unfortunately, the new ‘Good Practice Paper’ from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists fails to set high standards, which protect women from harm.

There remains an obsession with equating hysteroscopy pain with menstrual cramps, which is jaw-droppingly inaccurate in the experiences of women like Debbie. There is no clear requirement to make women aware of their option of a proper anaesthetic, nor the risks of going without one, before they arrive in the pressurised environment of the treatment room.

There, they are told the alternative could be a long wait, possibly delayed cancer diagnosis and unwelcome further ‘bother’ for all concerned. Under these conditions, it is hardly surprising that many are willing to endure severe pain.

The Paper acknowledges that a full third of women rate hysteroscopy pain at seven or higher out of 10 but immediately recommends patients be told that 90% of women say the procedure was acceptable. The NHS should not celebrate that women will ‘accept’ severe pain when they haven’t been presented with a free and informed choice to avoid it. It is deeply disturbing to see this in a ‘Good Practice Paper’

The Government must show leadership

When the medical establishment is this resistant to change, I believe the Government must show leadership. Ending horrendously painful hysteroscopies must be at the very heart of the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy.’ Patients’ groups and representatives must be regularly consulted and heard, as part of a robust monitoring approach.

There must be a guarantee that all hysteroscopy patients are offered a full range of anaesthetics and given early warnings about the risk of serious pain, not constant pressure to put up with it. A guarantee of proper resourcing for more anaesthetists and operating theatre space is another prerequisite.

At my most recent debate, the Minister responsible, Maria Caulfield MP, made a welcome commitment to engage with the way women undergoing this procedure are treated. I will hold her to that commitment, and I hope that the urgently needed change will finally come.

With every day that passes, the unnecessary, senseless suffering of women continues. I’ve never felt a more receptive mood in Parliament on all sides of the House when I’ve raised these issues. So, let’s act now to end the pain and degradation that women have been forced to endure for so long.

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