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Giving women a voice, and a choice over their medical care.

View profile for Kim Daniells
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Earlier this summer the then health minister, Nadine Dorries, urged women unhappy with their medical care to demand different treatment.

In guidance aimed and ending a gender imbalance in UK healthcare, Ms Dorries said that unconscious biases against women had always been an issue.

Her call came as the government sought public views in drawing up England's first women's health strategy.

Ms Dorries said: "There has been unconscious biases against women since the beginning of time, with the connection between hysterectomy and hysteria, for example."

These concerns, and a badly needed women’s health strategy have long been apparent in issues that we, at CNCI, address repeatedly. We know from our experience that, all too often, health concerns of women, for themselves and their unborn babies, are not taken seriously until too late.

Woman’s concerns being brushed aside by healthcare professionals has also been central in several well-publicised legal cases where cancers have not been diagnosed until very late, even though those patients have made multiple GP visits about developing symptoms.

In terms of maternity care, we regularly deal with compensation claims where women have expressed fears about the health of their unborn baby but had these dismissed, only for them to be realised at child’s delivery. 

One case led to a very large settlement because it was found that the hospital should have carried out more tests in the days before the delivery.

Another issue we see regularly is women with particular wishes about their childbirth arrangements being ignored and overruled by medical staff. 

Many women do not want an ‘instrumental’ – or forceps - delivery but would be happy to have a caesarean if a natural birth is not possible. I have recently dealt with two cases where these wishes were disregarded. For many women this leads to a feeling of helplessness and sometimes to significant long-term physical or psychological injury.

But Nadine Dorries, was also assuming that all women, regardless of their confidence, education and circumstances, can stand up for themselves against authoritative medical professionals. The reality is that many women feel at a disadvantage through anxiety, illness, fatigue or an inability to express themselves clearly...or simply because they do not have enough time in a consultation to explain their concerns.

The dismissal of women’s concerns by what has been a male dominated medical profession may be a significant factor leading to the abject failure in dealing with ‘women’s conditions’ such as endometriosis and the often-distressing effects of the menopause.

The increasing numbers of female GPs has helped to redress the balance and to ensure that the symptoms and concerns reported by women are taken more seriously...but there does still seem to be an ‘old guard’ of a few male doctors whose standard response is to dismiss women as being hysterical.

Common sense should dictate that, if legions of women who have not troubled a doctor for 30 years, start visiting their GPs in middle age reporting a range of new symptoms including depression, disabling anxiety and difficulty sleeping, then doctors at least consider that these could be a physical consequence of the hormonal changes associated with the menopause.

The reality is that many women, including those who are perceived as successful, confident and eloquent can often have difficulties in dealing with doctors.  Those that are seen to be managing their day-to-day lives, despite their health concerns, are often fobbed off by doctors because, if they can work, manage homes and care for families then their problems cannot really be that significant!

While a UK women's health strategy is long overdue and badly needed, the onus should not be placed on women to demand different treatment if they are unhappy.  It should be inherent in the new system - there is an historic imbalance to redress.