Earlier this year, the government released its response to a public consultation entitled “Women’s Health – Let’s Talk About It”.
This consultation was carried out following several health scandals that disproportionately affected women.
These ranged from extremely high rates of infant and maternal deaths in individual maternity wards, unnecessary mastectomies and hysterectomies, botched breast augmentations, overuse of excruciatingly painful vaginal mesh for incontinence problems and the inability to process female pain.
All were compounded by a culture of cover-up and medical attitudes ranging from neglect and disrespect to overt sexism and abuse.
Those who oversaw the consultation were stunned by the number of responses – nearly 100,000 – and by the picture that emerged of a widespread failure of the medical profession to listen to women or respond properly to their health needs, especially chronic gynecological problems such as endometriosis. and recurrent miscarriages.
Caroline Criado Perez, best-selling author of Invisible Women, had previously revealed how medical practice and research, and even the design of medical and safety equipment, are based on the biology and responses of the male body.
She and other researchers have highlighted the detrimental and sometimes deadly effect this has on outcomes for women.
For example, because women who have heart attacks often have different symptoms than men, they are less likely to receive urgent or effective treatment and are more likely to die.
Such fatal errors are hardly surprising when mainstream medical training pays little attention to women’s health.
It was only recently revealed that, until now, female body diagrams and models used by medical students were not accurate, being modeled entirely on a shrunken male physique with added female sex organs.
There are signs of change. Locally, Professor Claire Smith, head of anatomy at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), is committed to “teaching anatomy that is representative of all patients”.
She worked with the developers of the first advanced female anatomical model and says that at Brighton she was “able to integrate this into our teaching of medical students”.
At the national level, the government, shaken by the outcome of its consultation, launched its first Women’s Health Strategy.
Doctors in England will receive mandatory training in women’s medical issues, including endometriosis, which causes severe pain but is often undiagnosed or untreated.
Professor Lesley Regan, former president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has been named the country’s first Women’s Health Ambassador.
She is convinced that the health system focuses on the needs of men to the detriment of women and that health services do not meet the needs of women.
She is pushing for women’s health centers to be opened across the country, to provide one-stop-shops for women to receive targeted health care such as pap smear tests, advice on contraception and menopause.
There are currently six centers in England which bring together existing services under one roof, eliminating the need for women to go through multiple appointments for the care they need. Professor Regan argues that it works better for women and costs less.
Brighton and Hove badly need such a hub. As the Council recently recognized, we have one of the worst records in the country when it comes to cervical cancer screening.
The Care Quality Commission has reported serious problems with maternity services in Brighton, Worthing, Haywards Heath and Chichester due to “inadequate” standards of care and unsafe levels of staff.
Mothers in distress have complained that gender-specific words about maternity services have been elided from policies and information materials, while gender-specific language about men’s health, such as prostate cancer, remained intact.
Despite the fact that the city has shockingly high rates of male violence against girls and women, including sexual harassment and assault, we do not have female-only sexual health facilities.
There are, rightly, specialist clinics for men who have sex with men, but none offer women-only services for vulnerable girls and young women who need privacy and space. sure to seek advice.
There is a crying need for services that truly meet the needs of women.
In this context, I have found it encouraging that Sussex Health and Care, a collaboration of health and care organizations that coordinates local services, is considering taking advice from people with long-term health needs.
He is recruiting for a new Sussex Lived Experience Network to advise on how local health and care services should be planned and delivered and ‘help shift the balance of power in the relationship between patients and healthcare providers in health and care”.
Given current concerns about women’s health services, I assumed that the new body would be keen to learn from the experiences of women, both as patients and as caregivers. I was wrong.
Its focus turns out to be ‘gender identity’, not sex, although biological sex is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and is of considerable importance in relation to health outcomes .
Indeed, the words women, feminine and sex do not appear at all in the recruitment material. Nor is there any reference to the neglected gender-specific health needs of women (or even men).
Instead, it seeks to attract “people” with a “range of gender identities, ages, ethnicities and experiences”.
And in case anyone misunderstands, he points out that he’s “really keen” to involve “minority communities — people from black and minority ethnic communities, people with LGBTQ+ identities, and people with disabilities.”
The ad trumpets: “Your voice matters.” But the detail suggests otherwise. Women who may have spent decades battling sexism and indifference in health services may have little confidence that their voices will be heard – unless in addition to being women they can demonstrate other more socially acceptable or fashionable characteristics or identities.
This recruitment, using taxpayers’ money, is being carried out by a London company called Traverse, formerly the Office for Public Management Ltd, on behalf of Sussex Health and Care, with the cooperation of Healthwatch, which exists to support patients.
It is conducted on their behalf. So I would be interested to hear from both Sussex Health and Care and Healthwatch how they explain the exclusion of women.
Once again, women – the half of our population who, through their taxes, help fund health and care services and perform the bulk of unpaid care work in this country – are not included, they’re told they don’t need to apply, they’re not good enough, they just don’t “cut the mustard”.
No wonder so many girls self-harm, use lip fillers and bandaged breasts, or get labiaplasties — or decide they don’t want to be women at all.
Jean Calder is an activist and journalist. For more of his work, click here.