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Putting Women’s Health at the Top of the Agenda Permanently  

Maria Caulfield MP, Minister for Mental Health and Women’s Health and the Minister for Women writes for Chamber on placing women’s health at the top of the Government’s agenda.

For too long, we have put up with women battling to be heard in a health and care system designed by men, for men. Being a woman should not mean spending a greater proportion of your life in ill health compared to men; neither should it mean being treated to second-rate healthcare.

There is evidence showing that the impact of female-specific health condition such as menstruation and the menopause on women’s lives is overlooked and that sex-based biases in clinical trials are contributing to worse health outcomes for women. This is not good enough.

That’s why we have published the first-ever government-led Women’s Health Strategy for England. Based on a consultation that more than 100,000 people across England took part in, this document sets out an ambitious ten-year plan for improving the health and well-being of women and girls and reforming how the health and care system listens to them. The appointment of Professor Dame Lesley Regan as the Women’s Health Ambassador is instrumental to achieving this to raise the profile of women’s health, increase awareness of ‘taboo’ topics and support the implementation of the strategy’s priorities.

The strategy sets out the cross-cutting themes of women’s voices, including information and awareness, access to services, disparities in health outcomes between women, health in the workplace, education and training for health and care professionals, research and evidence, and data and digital.

Eight priorities for year one

We have chosen eight implementation priorities for the first year of the strategy, and have outlined our progress against them so far:

  1. Encouraging expansion of women’s health hubs in every integrated care system to improve women’s access to services, support women in maintaining good health and create efficiencies for the NHS. We are working with stakeholders to develop a best-practice resource to support local implementation.
  2. Improving information provision on women’s health so all women know what to expect from our healthcare system throughout their lives, including transforming the NHS website into a first port of call for women’s health information and supporting teachers to deliver the women’s health elements of the statutory relationships, sex and health education curriculum.
  3. Supporting women’s health in the workplace to prevent the loss of women from the workforce who are not properly supported with their health needs. We want the workplace to follow those like the Civil Service and John Lewis, who are making simple adjustments such as flexible working to better deal with menopause symptoms. We are also acting through the Health and Wellbeing Fund 2022-25, which has funded 16 projects focused on supporting those with reproductive ill-health to remain in, or return to, the workplace.  
  4. Providing people with the tools to feel supported during pregnancy loss. We will publish the final report of the independent Pregnancy Loss Review and develop the pregnancy loss certificate in England, which will be an important way of acknowledging and validating people’s experience with miscarriage.
  5. Helping anyone struggling to have children, which is why everyone should have fair and equal access to NHS fertility treatment. We’re looking at ways to remove barriers to IVF services, which offer opportunities for people to start a family including by removing the additional financial burden on female same-sex couples accessing treatment. Currently, women who already have children from a previous relationship are prevented access to certain treatment a practice that is unfair and outdated and is something we’re working to remove.  
  6. We’re introducing the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prescription prepayment certificate in April 2023. Around three-quarters of women will experience menopause symptoms, with a quarter experiencing severe symptoms that seriously affect their quality of life. We’re increasing access to HRT the main treatment for menopause symptoms through the HRT pre-payment certificate. This certificate enables women to pay no more than the cost of two single prescription charges for a year. We’re also continuing to work with suppliers to encourage and support them to boost supply to meet growing demand.  
  7. There’s ongoing work to address healthy ageing and long-term conditions, including looking into heart health and heart disease, musculoskeletal conditions and dementia, to better understand the key gaps and barriers that women face, which will feed into the Major Conditions Strategy
  8. We’re investing in research into women’s health issues and improving participation of women in all research, including the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) conducting a menopause research prioritisation exercise, and commissioning an emergent Policy Research Unit dedicated to reproductive health. 

There is still more to do. If women’s health is improved, we all benefit. As leaders at a national or local level, we all have a powerful role to play in shaping the areas of health that are prioritised.

While it is so important we can talk about women’s health, it is important to practice what we preach. We can all act within our own work environments, including through implementing policies, to make a huge difference to women’s daily lives. 

I am proud of the work we have done to put women’s health permanently on the agenda¾and I am looking forward to the progress to come. 

Curia’s NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission

Last year, the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission developed an implementation plan to improve the access environment for innovative treatment such as HRT, to improve population health and reduce health inequalities across the UK.

The Commission is developing a programme for women’s health, bringing together leaders across the NHS, life sciences, national and local government to develop thought leadership and practical solutions for the health service and patients. To find out more about the Commission, read the 2022 report here.

For further insight, please contact our Senior Research and Policy Analyst, Harry Blacklock at harry.blacklock@chamberuk.com

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