The government has just announced a new strategy to tackle the gender health gap in England

Today (20 July 2022) the UK government has announced a set of proposals to address the gender health gap in England. 

Among the proposals to tackle the “deep rooted, systemic issues within the health and care system” are mandatory women’s health training for incoming doctors, £10 million for a new breast screening programme, and removing additional barriers to IVF for female same-sex couples. 

Steve Barclay, the Health and Social Care Secretary, said, “Our health and care system only works if it works for everyone. It is not right that 51% of our population are disadvantaged in accessing the care they need, simply because of their sex.” 

While Maria Caulfield, the Minister for Women’s Health, added, “Tackling the gender health gap will not be easy – there are deep seated, systemic issues we must address to ensure women receive the same standards of care as men, universally and by default.” 

The new proposals follow a call-for-evidence which generated responses from almost 100,000 individuals across England. As per a government press release, the responses highlighted “a need for greater focus on women’s specific health conditions including fertility and pregnancy loss, and gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis which affects 1 in 10 women.” 

The £10 million funding for the new breast cancer screening program will create 25 new mobile breast screening units, which will be targeted in areas where attendance for breast cancer screenings are traditionally low. 

Meanwhile, removing additional barriers to IVF for female same-sex couples will consist of getting rid of the requirement for them to pay for artificial insemination to prove their fertility status. Previously, the NHS rules stipulated that opposite-sex couples must try to conceive for two years before receiving funded IVF treatment, while same-sex have had to pay for several rounds of expensive intrauterine insemination (IUI) – costing up to £25,000 – before being considered. 

The government has also pledged to address the “postcode lottery” of accessing IVF treatment by improving “transparency on provision and availability of IVF so prospective parents can see how their local area performs.”

Another major proposal comes in the form of introducing pregnancy loss certificates to recognise parents who’ve lost a child before 24 weeks. Amy Jacksonson, of the Lily Mae Foundation, told The Independent, “To many of our families who have sadly lost a baby before 24 weeks, this small gesture will mean the world, and provide recognition that their precious baby existed.

“To discriminate between gestations only serves to belittle a loss before 24 weeks and we at the Lily Mae Foundation truly believe that a loss is devastating no matter what the gestation. The loss of an entire lifetime of hopes and dreams.”

The strategy has also outlined plans to ensure specialist endometriosis services have the most up to date evidence and advice, as the press release noted: “Feedback from thousands of women across the country revealed that they feel their voices were not always listened to, and there was a lack of understanding or awareness amongst some medical professionals about health conditions which affect women.”

It will also take action to increase access to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) by reducing the cost of this medication – a system which will be implemented by April 2023.

Women’s Health Ambassador Dame Lesley Regan welcomed the new proposals: 

“Having spent my career looking after women, I am deeply aware of the need for a women’s health strategy which empowers both women and clinicians to tackle the gender health gap.

“We need to make it as easy as possible for women to access the services they need, to keep girls in school and women in the workplace, ensuring every woman has the opportunity to live her life to her fullest potential.

“This strategy is a major step in the right direction, listening to the concerns of women, professionals and other organisations to tackle some of the deep rooted issues that we know exist.”

For more from Glamour UK’s Lucy Morgan, follow her on Instagram @lucyalexxandra.