The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EmbracingEquity. Dee Montague-Coast, Engagement Officer of Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales, highlights the inequalities women in Wales face when accessing healthcare, but is optimistic of a more equitable future.
Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales (FTWW) is the nation’s only patient-led charity campaigning for female health equality, so this years’ International Women’s Day theme of #EmbracingEquity strongly resonates with us.
MAKING THE CASE
Two days after International Women’s Day in 2017, we published our first report, Making the Case for Better Endometriosis Care in Wales, largely as a consequence of the significant numbers of women, girls, and people assigned female at birth living with the condition – one in ten, the same as are affected by diabetes or asthma. Yet, at the time, few people had heard of the condition or its implications for female health, wellbeing, education, careers and fertility, nor the eye-watering costs to the public purse endometriosis incurred. The response to this report was positive: Welsh Government set up an Endometriosis Task and Finish Group and, in October 2018, the group’s recommendations were published. We were hopeful that things would radically change for patients in Wales; that diagnoses would happen more quickly, treatment pathways would be improved, and that the postcode lottery of care would no longer exist.
But here we are in 2023, and Wales still has the longest average diagnostic delay for endometriosis among the home nations – a staggering nine years. Our recommendation that Clinical Specialist Endometriosis Nurses be appointed in every health board has been actioned, but there is much more to do. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing numbers of patients are taking desperate measures to obtain equitable treatment, with many forced to pay privately, whether they can afford it or not. And this isn’t a problem just facing those with endometriosis. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ 2022 report, ‘Left For Too Long’ highlights how gynaecology services have been the worst affected by pandemic-related reprioritisation of care, underlined by the tendency for service-providers to use the word ‘benign’ to describe many gynaecological health conditions that hugely impact on women’s quality of life.
But we’re now heading in the right direction. Last May, on International Day of Action for Women’s Health, the Women’s Health Wales Coalition – co-chaired by FTWW and British Heart Foundation Cymru – published its co-produced Quality Statement for the Health of Women, Girls and those Assigned Female at Birth, appealing to Welsh Government to commit to a women’s health plan as is the case in England and Scotland. Our coalition – now standing at over 80 third sector organisations, expert patients, royal colleges, clinicians, and academics – found four key themes stretched across all the different health issues explored: access to specialist services, improved data collection, support for sustainable co-production, and training for health and care professionals. Address these, and it’s likely that we can begin to #EmbraceEquity in health for real.
Our argument was compelling, and we were delighted that the Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan MS, announced she would be co-developing a Women and Girl’s Health Plan with the Coalition and wider stakeholders as a result. As the Plan takes shape, we are hopeful that more organisations and researchers will be incentivised to undertake female – and intersectional – health research, not least to combat the hundreds of years of clinical studies where white European male bodies have been the ‘norm’ (female bodies were not routinely included in clinical trials until the 1990s). This lack of data leads to a lack of person-centred services which undoubtedly contributes to poorer health outcomes, not least those experienced by black and minoritised women in the UK, with Black women five times more likely to die in childbirth.
To genuinely #EmbraceEquity, we need to understand that health equality doesn’t just reside with the NHS – it’s also a social justice issue. As a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO), FTWW is pleased to be amongst members of Welsh Government’s Disability Rights Taskforce, which aims to address the wide-ranging barriers that face disabled people in Wales, not least when it comes to accessing healthcare. We are passionate about ensuring that those who are living with long-term health conditions are aware of their rights. So many who come to us don’t realise that they ‘qualify’ as disabled people, and aren’t aware of the Social Model of Disability. For FTWW, #EmbracingEquity this International Women’s Day means focusing on positively changing this situation, ensuring that disabled and chronically ill people and are empowered to access the support to which they are entitled.
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