Women are not being treated “appropriately” when it comes to gynaecological health, with some facing a lack of dignity and respect, or difficulty getting information and referrals, according to MPs.
Patients with problems, such as fibroids and endometriosis, said they had trouble getting their GPs to take their problems seriously and that it was a “battle” to get an appointment with a specialist.
“I was shocked by some of the stories we heard”
Some told MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health they felt they were not always believed and there was an implication that “it was all in my head”.
In response, the Royal College of Nursing said clinical nurse specialists were in a “prime position” to provide care for such patients and it was vital they received the necessary training and recognition.
The MPs’ report – titled Informed Choice? Giving women control of their healthcare – was based on a survey of over 2,600 women with fibroids or endometriosis, and found 42% of respondents said that they were not treated with dignity and respect.
In addition, 62% of women said they were not satisfied with the information that they received about treatment options for fibroids and endometriosis.
“Clinical nurse specialists are in a prime position to provide high level individualised care”
Meanwhile, nearly 50% of women with fibroids and endometriosis reported that they were not told about the short-term or long-term complications from their treatment.
The MPs said other findings suggested that “basic” standards of care were “all too rare”.
For example, 40% of women with endometriosis needed 10 GP appointments or more before being referred, 39% sought a second opinion and 67% got most of their information from the internet.
Among trusts, only 16% provided women with written information about heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain, while 86% could not provide information on how many diagnostic tests were needed to diagnose endometriosis and fibroids.
The MPs suggested that “some simple changes” and a “shift in the way that the NHS thinks about women’s gynaecological health” could result in a “vast difference” to the lives of millions of women.
The report called for women to be offered written information on gynaecological issues with a full range of information about the condition and what their options are.
For example, the same generic leaflets, endorsed by relevant clinical bodies and patient groups, should be made available at all centres, trusts and gynaecology clinics.
“These are both conditions that GPs and our teams are aware of and take seriously”
GPs, secondary care clinicians and nurses should also “provide or signpost” women to high quality information and resources about endometriosis and fibroids, their impact and treatment options.
There should also be an endorsed best practice pathway, so patients were streamlined more quickly into the right care – reducing unplanned admissions and ensuring better access to all treatments.
Paula Sherriff, chair of the group and Labour MP for Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, said she was “shocked by some of the stories” that she heard during the investigation for the report.
“The statistics in this report show that women are all too often dismissed by healthcare professionals when discussing their symptoms and choices,” she said. “The fact that almost 50% of women did not feel that they were treated with dignity and respect is appalling.”
She added: “The fact that women feel the need to seek further advice and they are not satisfied with the information that professionals give them shows that more needs to be done to empower women so they can make these choices. Women should be given the full range of information, in a written format, so they are able to make an informed choice.”
Women facing ‘barriers’ to gynaecological healthcare
Carmel Bagness, RCN professional lead for midwifery and women’s health, said: “This report shows the critical need to raise awareness of menstrual health problems across the country – among women and within the health service itself.
“It’s time debilitating conditions like endometriosis were taken seriously,” she said. “Every woman should be treated with respect, whatever their condition, and enabled to receive the best care possible.
“We urgently need to change how these conditions are viewed. All healthcare staff need to be fully prepared to support women and empower them to manage their conditions by providing all the information available,” said Ms Bagness.
She added: “Clinical nurse specialists are in a prime position to provide high level individualised care. It is vital that they receive the training and the recognition they need to enhance this area of care, so that all women get the treatment they need and deserve.”
helen stokes lampard blog image
Responding to the report, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We know that both endometriosis and fibroids can cause women considerable pain and distress, and these are both conditions that GPs and our teams are aware of and take seriously.
She added: “It is regrettable that so many women in this paper have reported a negative experience in obtaining a diagnosis – but the sample is small, and the report itself recognises that it is unlikely to be representative of all women’s experiences. Nevertheless, all of our patients should be treated with dignity and respect.
“The college has recognised women’s health as a clinical priority over the next 12 months and will shortly embark on a programme of work to develop resources to support GPs and our teams in the identification and treatment of women’s health issues,” she said.