One area we should all be choosing to challenge is women’s health.
Even in the UK, there is a significant health gap between men and women. You might have experienced it. Or someone you know might. The most common symptom is being dismissed or disbelieved…
Equipsme’s Operations Director, Rhonwen Beesley, explains: “Every woman I know has a story to tell about having their concerns, or even their pain, ignored by a Doctor. That isn’t normal, and it isn’t okay.
“The good news is that medical bias is now fairly well recognised by the medical establishment. It is a thing that happens. The bad news is that recognition has not filtered down into grassroots healthcare, and individual women across the country are still finding their health issues are not being taken seriously.”
Medical inequality and the health gap
The history of medical inequality is complicated to unpick. It occurs partly because diagnosis and treatment are often based on male-centred research that isn’t adapted for female biology, where hormone cycles can alter findings. It is also partly down to old-fashioned textbooks and baked in attitudes that perpetuate the myth of the ‘hysterical’ woman and the ‘tough’ man.
Whatever the background, the results include the fact women across the world have longer waits in emergency departments, and get less pain medication than men for the same conditions. There have been high profile cases around female-specific treatments, including the recent scandal over the use of vaginal mesh implants that have left hundreds of women with long term pain, and life-changing complications.
Meanwhile, it takes a shocking 7.5 years on average for women to be diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition 1 in 10 British women has, where tissue like that in the womb is found elsewhere in the body and can cause chronic pain, heavy bleeding and infertility.
Similarly, a quarter of women visiting the GP seeking help for menopause symptoms are sent away, many often with an incorrect diagnosis of depression. 1 in 4 will experience severe debilitating symptoms including mood problems, sleep problems, itching, and cognitive changes affecting memory and concentration.
Why organisations need to challenge themselves on women’s health
“We’ve spent a long time brushing ‘women’s issues’ under the carpet,” says Rhonwen. “They should not be taboo, because bias thrives in secrecy. In order to challenge the health gap we need to talk about every day, regular, women’s issues. We need to bring them up in conversation, and more importantly we need to bring them to work.
“Women are not just women off the clock. Women’s health issues impact the workplace, and workplaces need to understand, accommodate, and proactively address them.
“Every month, women go through hormonal changes, and for some that will bring significant challenges. How can you support them? What policies are in place? What training is in place for your managers? Every single woman in your organisation will also go through the menopause – probably just as she hits the height of her career. How will you make sure those women are not amongst the 10% that consider leaving work to deal with their symptoms? How can you choose to challenge these issues, these inequalities? How can you challenge yourself to do better?
“Many organisations are more aware than ever of employee health, and post-Covid attitudes to sick leave and mental health support have clearly changed. Businesses are recognising how important their people are, and how their health is linked to the health of the business itself.
“There is an opportunity for organisations of all sizes building back over the next few months to re-think the health support they provide, and I would like to see that extend to include changes in how organisations support women’s health specifically.”
Taking care of women taking care of families
It’s not just at work that women’s health matters. Internationally, changing healthcare for women and girls changes the fortunes of entire families. Women are often at the heart of homes, and their health and wellbeing impacts the health and wellbeing of everyone around them.
Rhonwen continues: “We know that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, in terms of their careers, and the caring burden they’ve taken on for children and older relatives. We have always put ourselves at the bottom of the to do list, and that’s worse than ever right now. Women are limping back to normality, and it is going to take a long time to get there.
“For individual women, I would like to say that your health cannot wait. You cannot take care of your family AND your work or business if you are not taking care of yourself. International Women’s Day coincides with Back to School day for many, so now is your chance. Make the appointment. And if you do not like what you hear, challenge it. You do not have to put up with the first answer you get, and you certainly do not have to put up with pain.
“One of the things I like about Equipsme is the GP and nurse support that it gives everyone. If you are not getting the help you need from your own GP, get an appointment with another GP through Equipsme. Ask for a female GP. Call the Health at Hand nurse support helpline to discuss your problems so you go armed with the right questions to ask, the right information to get what you want. If you develop a medical condition that is covered under your plan, demand a referral and get fast tracked to the right consultant.
“THAT is what we’re here for. We are your back-up so you can have the confidence to choose to challenge your own healthcare. Maybe that will help plug the health gap where it really matters – when it’s you.”
Equipsme services for women:
- Request a female GP
- Get £10 off a Thriva female hormone test
- Talk to a midwife on Health at Hand helpline