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UK Women’s Health Strategy Announces Priority Focus on Maternity Care, Menstrual Health, and Menopause in 2024

Bridie Houlihan

Bridie Houlihan | Founder & CEO Female Health Founders

On the 17th January 2024, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins unveiled key priorities for the government’s UK Women’s Health strategy in England for the year 2024. These encompass providing assistance to women grappling with gynaecological issues like endometriosis, supporting those who have encountered birth trauma, aiding women navigating through menopause, and enhancing maternity care.

Addressing the Women’s Health Summit at the Department of Health and Social Care in central London, Atkins also highlighted plans to enhance support for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, as well as women in correctional facilities. Additionally, efforts will be directed towards addressing maternity disparities.

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The UK Women’s Health strategy is now in its second year, and is a 10 year strategy aimed at reducing the gender health gap in the UK. The UK sadly has 51% of its population facing obstacles when it comes to accessing the care they need.

During the summit’s introduction, the politician recounted her own harrowing birthing experience. She shared that during her pregnancy with her now 11-year-old son, complications from her Type 1 diabetes necessitated an early hospital delivery. To her dismay, she found herself on a ward with women recovering from surgery after traumatic labours.

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‘I desperately want to ensure that women who are expecting and who find themselves needing a bit of extra help are not in that situation and they’re not facing the fear that I faced. And so as I say, I absolutely get it and it is very much personal for me,’

At the summit, Dame Lesley Regan, Women’s Health Ambassador for England, spoke about the potential advancements in reducing prolonged waits for diagnoses of female health conditions. In her reply, she expressed the desire to witness doctors in women’s health hubs routinely trained to inquire about patients’ menstrual cycles, similar to how a general practitioner routinely checks for medication usage during appointments.

In discussing potential solutions, she suggested that incorporating routine inquiries about patients’ menstrual cycles in women’s health hubs could lead to earlier detection of symptoms and faster diagnoses. The current wait time for endometriosis diagnosis is eight years, while PCOS diagnoses can take over two years. A 2022 report by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) revealed a significant increase in waiting lists for gynaecology, with one in 20 patients facing a year-long wait for treatment.

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Women’s health hubs, established last year to provide medical assistance for issues like period concerns, pelvic pain, contraception, and perimenopause, are set for expansion in 2024. The government aims to establish at least one fully operational center in each local area.

Tinuke Awe, founder of Five x More, an organisation dedicated to improving Black maternal health outcomes in the UK, expressed support for efforts to reduce maternity disparities. However, she questioned whether the government would collaborate with underfunded community organisations in these communities to effectively achieve this goal. She emphasised the importance of involving these organisations in addressing maternal health and broader women’s health disparities.

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UK women’s health hubs are a cross country government initiative for women to be able to benefit from better access to care for essential services for menstrual problems, contraception, pelvic pan and menopause care.

Craig Jones, Chief Executive at Royal Osteoporosis Society, raised concerns about the Women’s Strategy, highlighting a notable omission in support for women with osteoporosis. He stressed the urgency of addressing the under-diagnosis of osteoporosis, affecting two-thirds of people with the condition, mostly women over 50. Jones called on the government to acknowledge the scale of under-diagnosis and take prompt action to challenge stereotypes about osteoporosis being an expected part of aging for women.

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2024 UK Women’s Health strategy priorities

According to the government announcements, these areas will be honed in on in 2024:

1: Better care for problem periods and gynaecological conditions

The goal is to realise this objective through the implementation of women’s health hubs. The Office for National Statistics will conduct an inquiry into the influence of period-related concerns and endometriosis on women’s professional careers.

2: More women’s health hubs

In these facilities, individuals will have the capability to seek assistance for concerns ranging from menstrual issues to contraception and menopause care.

3: Addressing disparities and improving support for vulnerable women.

New recommendations from the National Women’s Prison Health and Social Care Review are set to be implemented for women’s health in prisons.

4: Robust maternity care

Women experiencing birth trauma will receive increased mental and physical health support, actions will be taken based on recommendations from the Pregnancy Loss Review, and a £50 million fund aimed at addressing maternity disparities will be initiated.

5: More research

The gender health gap, partially attributed to a historical lack of research into women’s health conditions, will be addressed by ensuring better representation of women in medical research, as outlined in the strategy. However, with the ongoing crisis in NHS waiting times, the realisation of these goals is yet to be determined.