England’s first women’s health ambassador is calling for “one-stop shops” where women can sort out their health needs. Dame Lesley Regan, also a practising doctor, wants to make it easier for women and girls to access care such as contraception and smear tests in the community.
Her new role aims to close the “gender health gap”. She will also support the upcoming government-led women’s-health strategy.
“At the moment, we waste a lot of resource in telling girls and women that they cannot have things,” she told BBC News. “So you might go off to your doctor or gynaecologist or heart specialist and get told, well, you cannot have a smear here, even if it is due, or you need to go somewhere else for this, that and the other. We should make it very, very easy for people to access this out in the community – why do you need to go to a secondary or tertiary facility for things that are very easy to provide?”
Instead, she wants health hubs where women could “go for half a day and get all these things sorted out” and then get on with their lives.
“A one-stop shop is what I want for myself and what I want for my daughters and I’m sure it is what every other girl and woman wants and what every man and boy wants for the women in their lives, to be looked after that way,” Dame Lesley said. But it would be unreasonable to expect every GP practice to become a women’s health hub.
The aims of the women’s health strategy include ensuring:
all women feel comfortable talking about their health and no longer face taboos
all women feel supported in the workplace and can reach their full potential at work
better representation in research trials
Dame Lesley also told BBC News more investment in the midwifery and obstetric workforce was needed. With 42 years’ experience working in women’s health, she:
>>> is currently professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, at Imperial College London
>>> was previously president of the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
>>> has conducted research on recurrent miscarriages and fibroids
>>> has a particular interest in period problems and the menopause
>>> Minister for women’s health Maria Caulfield said there was no quick fix to eradicate the gender health gap.
“Since we launched our women’s health call for evidence over a year ago, we have made great progress in raising the profile of women’s health,” she said. “From the formation of the UK-wide menopause taskforce and publication of our vision document, to legislating to ban hymenoplasty and virginity testing and appointing a chair of the HRT [hormone-replacement therapy] taskforce to help more menopausal women access this lifeline medication.”