I have written a lot about being an individual living with multiple long-term conditions over the last two decades. However, it wasn’t until I read the recently published Women’s Health Strategy for England policy paper that I realised what an impact being a woman has had on my experience of the health care system, the decisions made by me and about me in the conversations I have had.
In some areas, the relevance of my being female has been obvious: my regular appointments with gynaecology, routine tests such as cervical smears and a decade-long battle with infertility.
In others, the impact has been less obvious and sometimes completely ignored by health professionals. Times when I have made treatment decisions based on my want to have a baby or needed to manage my health conditions in balance with my role as a mother.
In a wonderful example of Personalised Care at its finest, my neurologist and I shared the decision-making about my treatment options in a way that considered every part of my life, including fertility. The consequential huge life decisions I made affected me profoundly. I believe that I accepted these decisions, and was able to move on with my life without too much difficulty because I had a substantial role in making those decisions. I accepted the outcome far more easily than I would have if I had simply been told what to do.
With the results of a recent Engage Britain survey finding that 26% of women haven’t got the support they need when seeking treatment over the past five years, it’s clear that the disparities in women’s health across the country have never been more in need of attention. The policy paper itself acknowledges that a massive 84% of respondents to the call for evidence felt their voices had not been listened to. Facing up to the magnitude of this issue lays the first brick in the foundations for change.
I’m fully aware that you can’t make assumptions about any individual’s needs based on the fact that they identify as female. These steps to support the health needs of women need to be rooted in the principles of Personalised Care and equality.
It’s great to see that the Women’s Health Strategy policy paper references Personalised Care throughout. As co-production lead at the Coalition for Personalised Care (C4PC), I am also encouraged by the appointment of a Women’s Health Ambassador and Deputy who will work to “build relationships with community groups and women and girls across the country… [and] develop plans for working with women, girls and stakeholders to implement the strategy.”
Listening to women, hearing about their experiences, and crucially asking them what works for them will be critical in ensuring that the Women’s Health Strategy brings about meaningful change, and enables women to receive the Personalised Care that they, as individuals, need.
C4PC is well placed to bring together the voices of our Partner organisations to discuss and provide feedback on the 6-point plan outlined in the Strategy paper. Women’s Health is an issue which is relevant to every one of our Partners, who can bring perspectives from people who provide care for women, or have experience of living with specific conditions as a female.
We stand ready to work with the Women’s Health Ambassador towards radical improvement in the way in which the health and care system engages and listens to all women and girls.
If you would like to be involved in group discussions or workshops on the subject of women’s health, please register your interest here.