After all, the UK has noticed its rampant sexism in healthcare. What now? | Womens health
Ministers are concerned about women’s health, they said today. Many women, who have screamed about the blatant health inequalities for far too long, can be forgiven for quietly saying: about the bloody times.
Men face greater health risks in many countries, but not in the UK. A study by Manual, a platform for men’s wellbeing, found that the UK has the largest and 12th largest female health gaps among the G20 countries.
A study published earlier this year by the House of Lords indicated that study after study showed worse results for women. In 2016, researchers at University College London found that women with dementia received worse medical treatment than men with the condition, made fewer doctor visits, received less health surveillance and took more potentially harmful drugs.
Women, especially young women, are also more likely than men to suffer from general mental illness, although men account for about three-quarters of all recorded suicides.
The inequalities begin long before women see their doctor’s office. Women are routinely underrepresented in clinical trials, and medical research proposed by women for women does not receive the same funding as medical research proposed by men for, you guessed it, men.
The tireless work of activist and author Caroline Criado Perez shows that, as she notes in her book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, “women systematically discriminate and chronically misunderstand, abuse and misdiagnose women.”
Sexism is still widespread in healthcare, not least among employees. Despite the fact that the NHS workforce is dominated by women, men who work in NHS trusts are still paid more than their female counterparts.
It permeates the system, from women’s pain being turned away by their GPs to women struggling to get the menopause medication they need from the NHS. The consequences can be disastrous. In June 2020, a government investigation found that an arrogant culture, in which serious medical complications were dismissed as “women’s problems”, had contributed to a number of health scandals over several decades.
Today’s recognition by Minister of Health for Women Maria Caufield that there were “shocking” cases among the 100,000 women who responded to a government consultation is to be welcomed, as is the announcement that there will be a Women’s Health Ambassador.
Creating a working group on menopause will help better understand a condition that affects half the population but was taboo until recently. And it is good to see activists’ demands to ban the hymen recovery operations have finally been heeded after the government previously promised to ban virginity tests.
But gender inequality in health care is profound. Realizing, as the government did today, that system-wide change is required to address “decades of gender inequality” is an important first step, but, as Criado-Perez said, women are already less important in health care viewed ancient Greece.
This spring’s women’s health strategy will need a lot more meat, especially a commitment to gender-disaggregated data within a health system that still provides male PPE for many of its employees – and years of sustained funding if that is to be reversed.