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Better workplace support needed for women’s health issues, nurses warn

Better workplace support needed for women’s health issues, nurses warn
Katharine Gale. Credit: Royal College of Nursing

A lack of workplace support for women’s health issues is driving nurses out of the profession, a nursing conference has heard.

Nursing staff at this year’s Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress have voted to push its governing council to ‘lobby employers to ensure that female employees are supported with specific women’s health and wellbeing needs’, such as the menopause, menstruation, fertility care and pregnancy.

Leading a debate on the topic at the conference, Francesca Steyn, chair of the RCN Fertility Nursing Forum said: ‘When faced with women’s health concerns, many women including those who identify as and were assigned female at birth may consider reducing their work hours or leaving work entirely.

‘Such concerns can include fertility problems, painful periods, gynae conditions, pregnancy and postnatal care and the menopause, and can impact working women both physically and psychologically.’

Ms Steyn said sanitary provisions in places of work were ‘often’ inadequate.

‘They’re not changed frequently enough, they’re disgusting, and women have to suffer that, especially if they’re suffering with endometriosis,’ she told the conference.

There were also instances where nurses have to ‘inject fertility medication in the toilets’ because there were no other appropriate spaces.

‘All we’re asking for is that women are not discriminated against at work due to their biology and they get the support they need in order to fill their career progression needs and not have to choose their career over their health,’ she added.

Chair of the RCN’s Women’s Health Forum Katharine Gale also took to the stand at congress and told of her experiences of endometriosis, fertility treatment and said that the menopause had forced her to walk out of her job.

‘I call on the [RCN] Council to commit to improving the support for women working in their own organisation, as well as role modelling what support should be available for healthcare organisations,’ said Ms Gale.

In addition, Dionne Daniel from the RCN’s History of Nursing Forum said that dealing with endometriosis and the menopause had ‘almost destroyed’ her career.

She described being diagnosed with endometriosis over 30 years ago and said: ‘For most of my working life as a nurse, it was dreadful.’

Ms Daniel said the condition impacted on her life ‘daily’ at work, noting how she could not stay in a meeting for more than an hour and a half.

‘Right now in this room, there are women going through things that can destroy their career,’ she said. ‘So, we need to have an important discussion.’

Advanced nurse practitioner within sexual health, Ruth Bailey, also added her voice to the discussion and stressed it was ‘really important that women are able to access the care that they need’.

She described having to support patients in her clinic who were ‘having to reduce their hours at work or work below their capabilities’ and added: ‘That is discriminatory.’

‘I’m also supporting patients who are going through disciplinary procedures because they’ve acted out of character because they’ve had a rage that they can’t manage,’ said Ms Bailey.

‘So, for me to have a menopause policy or a policy of women’s health that recognises these health challenges can only be for the good and as the RCN we should be leading the way on that.’

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