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Moving the needle in Women’s Health

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In August 2022, the UK Government published the Women’s Health Strategy which outlines a 10-year ambitious pathway for change in England, including improving access to services for women throughout their whole reproductive journey. It brings to the fold the importance of changing behaviour and services so that what is offered to women is a life course approach and not a disease orientated approach. But is the healthcare system in England set up for this change… Is any European country? And how can we make this change happen and what is it going to take?

Talking about providing care for the full journey of a women’s life is not a new concept, there have been reports, findings, briefings and papers published for years. In 2014, the then Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, highlighted the inequalities adolescent girls and women are facing and made recommendations on the needs for changing pathways and behaviours and taking the ‘embarrassment’ out of the equation. In 2019, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published the Better for Women report, also bringing the life course approach to the fore. Highlighting the need for intervening in women’s health before issues start to arise – raising again the challenge of creating a process for preventative health care vs reactive health care.

But the debate must also include other drivers for change. Tragic events have also pushed the needle and forced people to take a hard look at standards of care, one of the most recent ones to stand out being the findings from the Ockenden Review, though rightly brought about to review the terrible events that took place in the provision of maternal, newborn and infant care, why is it that some change only happens when life changing events and fatalities happen?

So, it’s 2023……have we brought about significant change in providing a life course approach to women’s health? Is there parity and equality of healthcare? Has the preventative message got through………. personally, we would say we are far from reaching those goals…. but there has been some positive movement. We are now seeing people coming together at summits and congresses focusing on the whole concept of women’s health and not just around pregnancy rates and statistics. Technology is spearing through boundaries making women’s health part of the offering and recognition of the importance of how technology can assist women in taking ownership of their health. Change is starting to seed.

However, for there to be significant change, there needs to be whole system change centred around all the touchpoints involved in an individuals care. Leaning on purely the government to drive this change will push the needle just a little. There needs to be a shift in funding, that will partly be from government but also the organisations associated with them to shift funds so healthcare is accessible and correct at each stage of the women’s life journey. However, with the ongoing energy crisis, cost of living crisis and the global economic state, these are all additional factors placing more pressure on the systems.

The COVID pandemic did shift the needle – in both directions…for the negative – as many services and access to healthcare was halted/significantly reduced. The outcomes of this have yet to be fully realised, and probably the full extent of the impact of life outcomes not seen for many years to come. Though one shift in the right direction, was the increase in women taking control of their own health whilst at home. During the pandemic, women took on many roles which had a large impact on mental and physical health, suddenly thrust into situations of mixing work, home schooling, home keeping and juggling all the balls that come with life, placed excess stress on many. Though these stressful experiences certainly can’t be owned by just women, as every person went through it.

The uplift in home health though did explode! The use of wearables, home testing kits and home monitoring suddenly was no longer disregarded, laughed at or hidden. All of a sudden, many companies surfaced with the latest AI tool to allow you to take control of your wellbeing and all from the comfort of your own home. The access to such methods of self-testing/monitoring/treating has become the ‘new normal’ and people are happy to start having conversations about their symptoms/home tests/home monitoring and the wall appears to have come down and it feels (though not scientifically proven) that people are more comfortable to have a conversation.

And that’s when the needle starts to change – when the conversations start… people talk and share ideas, concepts, new ways of doing things….

We must acknowledge that women’s health is complex, and no individual has exactly the same symptoms/reactions/cycles/tolerance to medication… the list goes on. So, with such complexity, how can governments/organisations/individuals start to improve the health of 51% of the population…. it will take time and the latest tech evolving I’m sure will shape this for the future and hopefully for the better health of this generation and those of the future.

That’s when the needle will move.

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