Don’t Miss This Good News About The Gender Health Gap

Photographed by Tami Aftab.
Women and people with wombs don’t need studies to tell them there is a gender health gap. They know. They know because, as Refinery29 has reported in our Uncharted Bodies series, they are likely to have felt ignored by a doctor or to have waited months – sometimes years – to be diagnosed with conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids and polycystic ovaries.
Last year, you might remember that we invited Refinery29 readers to submit their experiences of British healthcare to the government as part of developing a women’s health strategy which, the government hoped, would tackle gender bias in our health system. 
Well, today that strategy has been announced. And it’s looking pretty good. 
A huge aspect of the gender health gap is simply the fact that there hasn’t been as much research into conditions which affect women and people with wombs. 
So the fact that the newly announced women’s health strategy promises "major new research on women’s health issues to increase understanding of female specific health conditions and tackle the data gap to ensure diagnosis and treatment work for women" is welcome news.
Secondly, the strategy promises to ensure "all doctors are trained to provide the best care to women by introducing mandatory specific teaching and assessment on women’s health for all incoming graduating medical students and incoming doctors." This was not the case in the past and is something that Refinery29 has been calling for as part of Uncharted Bodies. 
Other notable commitments are a promise to "remove additional barriers to IVF for female same-sex couples. There will no longer be a requirement for them to pay for artificial insemination to prove their fertility status, and NHS treatment for female same-sex couples will start with six cycles of artificial insemination, prior to accessing IVF services if necessary." This is also something that Refinery29 has called for in our Modern Queer Family series. 
And finally, endometriosis sufferers will be pleased to hear that the strategy promises to "ensure specialist endometriosis services have the most up to date evidence and advice by updating the service specification for severe endometriosis, which defines the standards of care patients can expect, to ensure. This sits alongside the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) review of its guideline on endometriosis."

I want to see not only more research into women's health conditions and increased participation of women in all types of research but also a healthcare system which is collecting the right data to better understand women's health needs and experiences.

Lucy Chappell
All of these promises, if they are followed through with action, could be total game-changers. 
As things stand, women live on average for longer than men but spend more of their life in poor health, often limiting their ability to work and participate in day-to-day activities. 
Speaking exclusively to Refinery29, Lucy Chappell, chief scientific advisor at the Department of Health and Social Care and chief executive officer of the National Institute for Health and Care Research, said: 
"For many years, women have been under-represented in research – both behind and in front of the lens.
"The historical pioneering work women have done to pave the way to where we are today is often overlooked. For example, Ada Lovelace is chiefly known for her work on the early computer and Rosalind Franklin’s curiosity was central to understanding DNA, laying the groundwork for how we treat many conditions today.
"A growing number of researchers are women and while still not equal, I hope the upward trend continues.  
"But the gender bias in clinical trials is a persistent issue which is given less attention, despite it influencing the care women receive. 
"Scientists have over the years often undertaken research principally with male participants – even the mice used in discovery research are often male. 
"This has impacted our understanding of illnesses affecting women and our approach to treating them. 
"Women can present with different symptoms to men, which can lead to them being wrongly diagnosed. They can also react differently to medication, which is why it’s crucial they’re included in clinical trials so that we can get a better understanding of the impact of gender.  
"An example of this is underrepresentation in trials around cardiovascular drugs and their effectiveness in [the treatment and prevention] of heart attacks. We also need to ensure that women are adequately represented in research in areas such as dementia. 
"That’s why our first ever Women’s Health Strategy, published today, is a landmark moment and has strong ambitions to support women to participate in research. 
"It aims to identify gaps, including where someone’s sex has not been considered, and urges researchers to address this to make sure their trials are fully representative. The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) plans to increase the support for studies to better understand reproductive health that will find better ways to support women through fertility struggles, pregnancy loss and the menopause, just to name a few.
"I want to see not only more research into women’s health conditions and increased participation of women in all types of research but also a healthcare system which is collecting the right data to better understand women's health needs and experiences and continue to improve.
"Work is already underway – the NIHR has worked hard to boost participation of women in trials and support female researchers.
"This is testament to our innovation and forward thinking by making sure our strong research system ensures that the research studies underpinning crucial healthcare decisions are representative of the population.
"The UK is a world leader in research. I’m looking forward to bolstering this and ensuring the innovation and ground-breaking discoveries we’re making continue to improve care to benefit women everywhere – both in our NHS and globally."

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