Women across England are being encouraged to help shape future reproductive health policy by sharing their experiences as part of a new ‘landmark’ survey launched by the government today.
The national online survey aims to gather ‘vital data’ on women’s menstrual health, contraception, pregnancy planning and menopause, which will help shape future policy on women’s health, enhance care and improve wellbeing, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.
‘There are currently disparities in health across the country, and far too many cases where women’s voices are not being heard,’ the DHSC added.
It noted that along will the Women’s Health Strategy, this new survey ‘will play a key part in changing this’.
Dr Rebecca French, associate professor of sexual and reproductive health research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said women should be able to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health and wellbeing, but that health services are often ‘not joined up’.
‘Women have previously described difficulties accessing reproductive health services, for example, to get contraceptive supplies, to access fertility treatment or to obtain an appointment with a gynaecologist,’ she said.
‘Often health services are not joined up, leading to multiple visits and appointment delays.’
She addedd: ‘We know that poor reproductive health not only has a negative effect on health in general, but can also impact women’s mental health, relationships and finances. Further research is needed to better understand inequalities across England, so that women and people described as female at birth are able to make the choices they need for their own reproductive health and wellbeing.
‘The women’s reproductive health survey provides an opportunity to better understand what support is needed and how these issues can best be addressed.’
The DHSC said the survey delivers on a ‘key commitment’ in the Women’s Health Strategy to ensure the health and care system prioritises women’s voices.
Findings from the survey will be used to better understand women’s reproductive health experiences over time, it added, with the ‘vital information’ gathered about the lives and experiences of women used to inform current and future government decision-making and health policy.
Women’s health ambassador Professor Dame Lesley Regan said: ‘We need to make healthcare work for women and girls – and for it to fit around their lives.
‘There’s no point bolstering services if they can’t be accessed, or the support available doesn’t work for them and meet their needs.
‘That’s why we’re asking women and girls to share their experience, whether it’s about periods, menopause or endometriosis. We need your voice to shape a new system of healthcare that gives women what they need.’
The survey, which is open to all women in England aged 16 to 55, will run for six weeks and is being delivered by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and is funded by DHSC.
Questions include how much pain women experience during their periods, how they prefer to access contraceptive services, and how satisfied they were with any support they received for menopausal symptoms.
Maria Caulfield, minister for women’s health strategy, said: ‘Women and girls deserve the best healthcare at every stage of their lives, but we simply can’t deliver that without listening to their lived experiences and concerns.
‘Women should always have a say in their own healthcare, whether that’s in managing pregnancy and fertility or dealing with the challenges of the menopause in the workplace.
‘I would encourage every woman to complete the survey on reproductive health as soon as they’re able and ensure their voice is heard.’
Meanwhile, over 300,000 more women have accessed cheaper hormone replacement therapy since the launch of the Women’s Health Strategy just over a year ago, the DHSC said.
It also pointed to the incoming women’s health hubs that are opening across the country in every integrated care board, and a dedicated women’s health area that has been added to the NHS website.
Further measures being introduced include:
- An artificial intelligence tool to identify early risks in maternity units
- £25 million will be distributed across England so every area can create a women’s health hub
- A new IVF tool on GOV.UK so people can look up information about NHS-funded IVF treatments
- A new network of women’s health champions led by the women’s health ambassador for England, Professor Dame Lesley Regan
A Menopause Employment Champion has also been appointed – recruitment and employability expert Helen Tomlinson – to improve support for menopause in the workplace.
She is working with the Department of Work and Pensions to create an online repository of menopause resources for employers, on GOV.UK. The Menopause Taskforce also met in June to discuss menopause in the workplace.
The government said it has also awarded grant funding to charities across England to help employers make changes to their workplace to support women’s reproductive health, which includes menopause.
Earlier this year at the Royal College of Nursing Congress, nurses warned a lack of workplace support for women’s health issues was driving nurses out of the profession.