The health service is failing women

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The health service is failing women

A Labour MP has called on the Government to do more to ensure women in the health service are treated with dignity and respect.

In an open letter addressed to both NHS England and the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt,  Paula Sherriff MP has called on the Government to deliver a health service where the needs of women are at the heart of patient care.

In the letter, Paula Sherriff, who is Chair of the newly established All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health, explains: “…during my time as an MP I have been contacted by a number of constituents, clinicians and health campaigners who tell me that women are often not receiving the care that they deserve. Whilst we all rely on and value the work of our NHS, and all those that work in the system, I have learnt that far too many women are suffering in silence about their treatment.”

She concludes the letter by calling on the Health Secretary to meet with both her and fellow campaigners to agree steps to promote the needs of women in the health service.

The full copy of the letter is available below:

Dear Jeremy,

I am writing to you as Chair of the newly established All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health. This group aims to press for a culture in healthcare where women are empowered to make an informed choice about the best treatment for them, and that they are treated with dignity and respect. I am sure you would agree that this is something every patient deserves.

However, during my time as an MP I have been contacted by a number of constituents, clinicians and health campaigners who tell me that women are often not receiving the care that they deserve. Whilst we all rely on and value the work of our NHS, and all those that work in the system, I have learnt that far too many women are suffering in silence about their treatment.

Will you commit to do what you can to instil a culture where poor practice is challenged and the dignity of women is never side-lined?

After the last general election – you made a speech at the Kings Fund where you set out your ambition to make the NHS more patient centred. For many women who have had a poor experience of NHS care – this will be welcomed. It is now time to make this ambition a reality in a number of areas.

Endometriosis is a chronic and debilitating condition which is painful, can lead to infertility, fatigue and bowel and bladder problems. Around 1.5 million women in the UK are currently living with the condition. According to the charity Endometriosis UK many women are having to wait years for a diagnosis with many young women being told that their experience ‘was a normal part of being a woman.’

Uterine fibroids are another common condition with at least one in four women developing them at some point in their life. Far too many women are routinely treated for fibroids through hysterectomy, without being informed of alternative drug or minimally invasive surgical options – and without a focus being placed on the emotional consequences of hysterectomy for women.

Pelvic vein congestion is a condition that again can affect women of any age. They can be painful, affect a patient’s sex life and their self-esteem. I have heard from patients who, when presenting with symptoms, were dismissed and told that symptoms were ‘considered as part of being a woman.’

I am sure that you believe like me that these examples and case studies are unacceptable.

We need greater awareness for female patients about which treatments they should expect, the choices available to them, the manner in which these choices are explained, and availability of support services during after treatment.

Will you meet with me – and other members of the Group – together with clinicians and healthcare campaigners, so together we can help create and drive forward a plan for NHS England and the Department of Health? Will you do everything you can to see that women in our National Health Service are empowered to make informed choices about their bodies and their conditions, and the best treatment available for them, and that they are always treated with necessary dignity and understanding?

Yours sincerely

Paula Sherriff, Member of Parliament for Dewsbury
Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health

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