Women are being encouraged to share their experiences of the health and care system to help develop the first Government-led national strategy specifically aimed at ensuring services in England meet their needs.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is launching a 12-week call for evidence in the hope of gathering input from women of all ages and backgrounds amid “strong evidence of the need for greater focus on women’s health”.
The aim is for respondents’ views to inform a women’s health strategy for England that will set out an “ambitious and positive new agenda” and contribute to improved outcomes.
Plans to launch the strategy last year were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but it is understood ministers hope to publish it when MPs return to Parliament after their 2021 summer recess.
The call for evidence comes after studies suggested that gender biases in clinical trials and health research were “contributing to worse health outcomes for women”, the DHSC said.
The department also highlighted that while women on average live longer, they are spending less of their lives in good health when compared to men and their health improvements are slower.
Starting on Monday – International Women’s Day – the call for evidence will include six core themes, including: “placing women’s voices at the centre of their health and care”, improving access to health information and education and ensuring services are responsive to women’s needs across their lives.
Another theme covers women’s health and how this relates to the workplace – both in terms of female-specific issues such as the menopause as well as conditions that are more prevalent in women such as musculoskeletal conditions, depression or anxiety.
Ensuring research and data collection is inclusive of women is another core theme, as well as understanding the impact of Covid-19 on women’s health.
The Government is welcoming perspectives from all women on any aspect of their health and well being and their treatment experiences, including around mental health, addiction, neurological conditions, pregnancy and post-natal support.
Views, which are also being sought from service providers and women’s health experts, can be submitted through a “user friendly” form that can be accessed on mobile phones.
Nadine Dorries, minister for women’s health, said: “Women’s experiences of healthcare can vary and we want to ensure women are able to access the treatment and services they need.
“It’s crucial women’s voices are at the front and centre of this strategy so we understand their experiences and how to improve their outcomes.
“I urge every woman, and anyone who cares for women, to feed into this call for evidence and help shape the future of women’s health.”
DHSC said female life expectancy in the UK has been improving at a slow rate than male life expectancy since the 1980s.
It said there was evidence that the impact of female-specific health conditions such as heavy menstrual bleeding, endometriosis, pregnancy-related issues and the menopause on women’s lives was being “overlooked” – including how this affected workforce participation.
The department said less was known about women-only conditions, such as gynaecological conditions, where there is currently “little treatment”.
For example, it said the average time for a woman to receive an endometriosis diagnosis is seven to eight years, with 40% of women needing 10 or more GP appointments before being referred to a specialist.
Mika Simmons, co-chair of the Ginsburg Women’s Health Board, filmmaker, and host of The Happy Vagina podcast, said: “Every single woman I speak to, myself included, has experienced either misunderstanding or loss as a direct result of slow or inaccurate diagnosis of their health concerns.
“I am delighted that this – the gender health gap – which grew out of a severe lack of historical research into women’s health issues, is not only finally being acknowledged but that steps are being taken to right size it.”