It is also essential that healthcare practitioners can access the necessary information to meet the needs of the women they provide care for. I believe there is an opportunity to take a much more holistic approach to women’s health across the life course, focusing on prevention and better integration of services. The government’s integration and innovation white paper and our public health reforms will set the direction for a greater focus on integrated, person-centred care and prevention. Rape Crisis provides specialist services for women and girls that have been raped or experienced another form of sexual violence. WHEC influenced the policy and practice that impacted on women’s lives and made sure the voice of women and girls was an essential part of the health agenda. We provided information and capacity support for the women’s sector and influenced government both at national and local level.
This identified and labelled emerging themes and topics in the responses for every question, and allowed responses to be tagged with multiple themes. We included a mandatory question on place of residence at the start of the survey, and from this we were able to filter out 12,677 responses from individual who told us they live in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, or elsewhere. In this section, we provide an overview of the ways in which individuals could respond to the ‘Women’s Health – Let’s talk about it’ survey, how we processed and analysed the data, and points to consider when interpreting the results. A separate report on the written evidence submitted by organisations and individuals with expertise in this field will be published in early 2022. The findings of the focus group study can be found on the University of York’s website. In March 2021, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Minister of State for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health launched a call for evidence seeking views on the first-ever government-led Women’s Health Strategy for England.
In the middle years many women will require support and services for contraception, sexual health, planning for pregnancy and specific help to manage periods and menstrual disorders. Women felt that, at times, healthcare professionals acted as a barrier that prevented them from accessing the relevant services or treatment. 28% of those identifying with a gender different to their sex at birth said they have enough information on mental health conditions, compared with 34% of cisgender respondents . The same top 5 topics were selected by respondents who described their ethnicity as white, Asian or black, while mixed or multiple ethnic respondents selected the health impacts of violence against women and girls instead of the menopause. This report contains content that some readers may find upsetting, including anonymised, personal testimonies of not being listened to by healthcare professionals, and experiences of baby loss. We want to understand more about the impacts of COVID-19 on women’s health, and on women’s health services, including both challenges and positive reforms or opportunities for action.
More than half of respondents said they can access enough information on how to prepare for or prevent a pregnancy (59%), general physical health concerns (56%), and how to prevent ill-health or maintain their health (51%). More than 4 in 5 respondents (84%) went on to tell us that there have been instances when they felt they were not listened to by healthcare professionals. Based on our thematic analysis of the personal testimonies provided, ‘not being listened to’ appears to be prevalent across all stages of the healthcare pathway. As shown in Table 1, the vast majority (97%) did share their own experiences. For the minority answering as a family member, partner, friend or self-identified health or care professional, the question wording of subsequent questions in the survey was changed slightly to ask them about the experiences of the woman or women they had in mind.
Many respondents flagged service accessibility issues that were not specific to women, but none the less important to note. Overall, around 3 in 5 respondents (62%) said they, or the woman they had in mind, cannot access all the services they need in a way that is convenient in terms of timing. Respondents living in the Midlands, east of England, and north-west England were 6 percentage points less likely to say services are accessible in terms of location (38%), compared with those in London.
Cisgender respondents were 12 percentage points more likely to feel comfortable talking to healthcare professionals about gynaecological conditions than those who identify with a gender different to their sex registered at birth (71% vs 59%). Cisgender respondents were 9 percentage points more likely to feel comfortable talking to healthcare professionals about general physical health concerns, compared with those who identify with a gender different to their sex registered at birth (85% vs 76%). Traditionally, research on the health issues facing women has tended to focus on maternal, sexual and reproductive health, as well as women-specific diseases such as breast cancer. However, the conditions that now kill most women around the world are coronary heart disease and stroke; their aetiology is influenced by a wide range of events and exposures earlier in life that are poorly understood. Cisgender respondents were 10 percentage points more likely to feel comfortable talking to healthcare professionals about gynaecological cancers than those who identify with a gender different to their sex registered at birth (72% vs 62%). Over 4 in 5 women (85%) feel, or are perceived to feel, comfortable talking to healthcare professionals about general physical health concerns.
Women’s input into society and particularly into our health and social care system has always been vital, but I would argue never more so than now. 77% of the NHS workforce and 82% of the social care workforce are women, and throughout the pandemic women have been on the front line ensuring that people receive the health and care they need. Investing in all aspects of women’s health, including within the workplace, is essential to women’s ability to reach their full potential and contribute to the communities in which they live.
This falls to less than 3 in 5 women when discussing mental health conditions (59%). To explore women’s experiences in more detail, respondents were asked to provide up to 2 examples of times when they felt they had not been listened to by healthcare professionals in relation to specific health issues or conditions. Space was also provided to enable respondents to reflect on how the healthcare system listens to women more broadly.
Overall, 35% of women felt comfortable talking about health issues with their workplace; 58% said they feel uncomfortable; and 7% said they are not sure how they feel. We wanted to understand whether women can conveniently access the services they need in terms of location, timing and for any specific conditions or disabilities they have. We also wanted to collate ideas for improving women’s access to services. Without timely and accurate information, respondents felt women may not know whether the symptoms they are experiencing do point to a specific condition, and whether they should speak to a healthcare professional to investigate further. Many women who responded to this consultation felt it would be helpful to have more information on women’s health topics online, ideally accessible through official medical platforms such as the NHS website and GP websites.