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A life-course approach to the first U.K. Women's Health Strategy.

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

This summer, the UK Government published their first ‘Women’s Health Strategy for England’, following a ‘call for evidence’ (published in 2021) and for which they received almost 100,000 responses from women across the country as well as over 400 submissions from organisations in health and care, including from bump & glide.

Upon hearing that women and girls across the country do not feel well served by the healthcare system as it it, The Women’s Health Strategy will be taking a ‘life course approach’, which will focus on understanding the changing health and care needs for women and girls across their lives.

Next month, on October 21st, I will be speaking at the Dorset Women’s Health Symposium and thought it helpful to give you a summary of the Strategy before then, so you have a bit of background!

Professor Dame Lesley Regan, Women’s Health Ambassador states that: “When we get it right for women, everyone in our society benefits.” and I couldn’t agree more.

In this blog post, I won’t be bringing up every element of the 125 pages of the Strategy - I’ll leave you to look it up and read more about the areas which interest you - but I would like to draw your attention to Chapter 12, which focuses on ‘Fertility, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Loss and Postnatal Support’, seeing as this is the specific area of Women’s Health that I’m currently passionate about and working in.

Chapter 12 - ‘Fertility, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Loss and Postnatal Support’ (p.67-78)

In the ‘call for evidence’, the topic of ‘Fertility, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Loss and Postnatal Support’ was the second most selected topic that people picked to be included in the Strategy (55% of respondents selected this). This shows just how important people consider this period in women’s lives to be.

Let’s look into how this area of care, research and support is planning on being improved on, in the years ahead.

I often say that you don’t know what you don’t know and regularly remind people that I’m here to be useful to them, to provide them with the knowledge and information I have gained over the past several years so that they may go on and make their own minds up, their own ‘informed decisions’ about their health and care throughout the perinatal period. Funnily enough, ‘information’ was a key theme in the call for evidence, with “more education for young people around this subject” and “more information on maternal physical health after pregnancy”, a couple of key topics which were brought up…

Unsurprisingly, the call for evidence also heard about concerns that “postnatal support was often too focused on the health and wellbeing of the baby, sometimes to the exclusion of the mother.”

This was a huge part of the bump & glide submission in the call for evidence, so I’m thankful that it has made it into the hands of the right people and truly hope that positive changes for women, and their families going forward, will result from this feedback.

In the ‘Fertility care’ sub-section (p.71), it states:

“We will work with NHS England to review and address the current geographical variation in access to NHS-funded fertility services across England to ensure all NHS fertility services are commissioned in a clinically justifiable way.”

"the NHS treatment pathway for female same-sex couples will start with 6 cycles of artificial insemination, prior to accessing IVF services if necessary."

“We will improve information provision regarding fertility over the next 2 years. We will work with NHS England and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the regulator of the UK fertility sector, to promote easily accessible information to women.”

“The HFEA will also continue to work with royal colleges and professional groups to consider how best to improve understanding among healthcare professionals about infertility, so that referrals to treatment services are quicker and easier for women.”

Having had clients whose journey to parenthood has involved fertility issues, I know how much of an impact poor support in this area can have on a couple and their relationship so I am really pleased to hear about the changes being made in this space.

In the ‘Maternity care’ sub-section (p.72), it states:

“The NHS England Maternity Transformation Programme* is delivering the Better Births** vision for maternity services across England, which is for maternity services to become safer, more personalised, kinder, professional and more family friendly; where every woman has access to information to enable her to make decisions about her care; and where she and her baby can access support that is centred around their individual needs and circumstances.”

This additional point will also not come as a surprise: “Reports and investigations into maternity services have underlined the importance of listening to women and their families and providing safe, personalised care for all women.”

Why ‘the importance of listening to women’ should need to be reiterated in 2022 is shocking but as it has been brought up, it needs to be said:

Women need to be listened to, every woman is an individual women, not solely an age, not merely another name on a chart. They have a background, a history, physical and mental health which all need to be considered when being cared for, especially around the perinatal time.

In the ‘Personalised maternity care’ sub-section (p.73-74), it states:

There is also mention of ‘NHS England’s iDecide project’ which has been co-designed by women and healthcare professionals: “This will be a series of decision making tools to better support informed decisions in labour by supporting women and their families to record their wishes and consent.”

I’m intrigued about this and have reached out to my network of NHS and Independent midwives to get their feedback. From my own personal experience, and the stories I hear from clients on a regular basis, during labour isn’t the time to be given new and extensive information about a decision that needs to be made there and then, this should be provided antenatally. I’m looking forward to hearing more on this subject soon and I’ll keep you posted.

In the ‘Support for new mothers and parents’ sub-section (p.74-75) it states:

That they have: “included the 6 to 8 week postnatal check in the GP contract since 2020 to 2021, and provided £12 million to support implementation. This is a separate appointment to the 6 to 8 week baby check which focuses on the mother’s physical and mental health and general wellbeing.”

I would be really interested to get service user feedback on this, as my last baby was born before this came into effect and back then, there definitely wasn’t much focus at all on the mother. Any feedback / comments here would be really helpful so that I can feed them into my local MVP (Maternity Voices Partnership) at our next meeting to ensure that experiences are being fed back and acted on where required.

This topic in the strategy ends by mentioning the key areas they’ll be focusing on and where more research is needed, these include: “the efficacy of practice models, such as continuity of carer" and “how the prenatal and postnatal environment influences infant development and parent-infant bonding.”

In summary, the feedback has reached the right people thanks to the call for evidence but it doesn’t stop there. If you’re reading this and want to share your own experience, please get in touch with your local MVP (Maternity Voices Partnership) or your local maternity services so that things can keep on improving.

As Professor Dame Lesley Regan mentioned in the Strategy: “To achieve sustainable change and improvement, it is important to recognise that better health for women extends beyond our health and social care system. Every sector in society has a role to play and I hope we will persuade many others to collaborate with us and contribute to achieving this goal.”

Please get involved.

Please give your feedback.

Please use your voice.

Every single woman, irrespective of her culture, religion, beliefs, social status deserves to be heard. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our children.

* NHSE Maternity Transformation Programme

** NHSE, Better Births: Improving outcomes of maternity services in England – A Five Year Forward View for maternity care, published February 2016 and updated in 2017

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