Advancing Women's Health: Progress, Priorities, and Challenges

As we celebrate International Women's Day 2024, it's crucial to reflect on the strides made in women's health while acknowledging the persistent challenges and areas needing urgent attention.

In England, the Women's Health Strategy has been a cornerstone in addressing these issues since its implementation, aiming to provide comprehensive, equitable, and personalised healthcare for women across the nation. However, as we look ahead, there's still much work to be done.

The UK has a persistent Gender Health Gap. Women, especially those of low socio-economic status, have worse health outcomes than men.

The concerning reality is that despite living longer than men, women spend 25% more of their lives grappling with debilitating health issues. Termed the "Gender Health Gap," this disparity encompasses a range of issues including unequal access to healthcare, funding discrepancies, and gender-based prioritisation within medical systems.

A closer look reveals that compared to their male counterparts, women tend to visit their GP less frequently, are more likely to be prescribed potentially harmful medications, receive substandard medical treatment—particularly in cases of dementia—and face a twofold likelihood of dying within 30 days after experiencing a heart attack.

Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for Women, has recently outlined key priorities for women's health, emphasising the importance of mental health services, personalised care, and community-based initiatives. Despite efforts, access to women's health services remains a significant challenge, particularly for marginalised communities. There's a pressing need for better mental health support tailored to women's unique needs and experiences.

The Urgent Need for Policy Action: Safeguarding Patient Well-being Amidst NHS Workforce Challenges

Effective communication between patients and doctors forms the bedrock of shared decision-making, a crucial component of quality healthcare within the NHS. However, recent research conducted by the NIHR reveals a concerning statistic; 4 out of 5 women have experienced instances where healthcare professionals failed to listen to their concerns.

Healthcare professionals, burdened by time constraints, often find themselves unable to dedicate as much time to each patient as they would prefer. This scarcity of time underscores the importance of utilising the available time efficiently. However, the repercussions of rushed consultations can be significant, potentially leading to misdiagnoses or the dismissal of women's health concerns, with potentially life-threatening consequences.

Compounding this issue is the ongoing NHS workforce crisis, which places healthcare professionals under immense pressure. The strain of understaffing exacerbates the challenges of providing optimal care, further compromising patient safety and outcomes.

As the country approaches a General Election, it is imperative for incoming government leaders to address the NHS workforce crisis head-on. By implementing measures to alleviate staffing shortages and improve working conditions for healthcare professionals, we can ensure that women, along with all patients, receive the standard of care they deserve – one that is attentive, thorough, and prioritises their health and well-being.

Meaningful conversations between patients and doctors are not merely a nicety but a fundamental aspect of delivering effective healthcare. It's time for policymakers to recognise the urgency of this issue and take decisive action to safeguard the health and safety of patients across the NHS.

Policy Connect and the APPG on Health have been exploring the NHS workforce crisis as part of their series of events, to register to attend these please email lavanaya.rangarajan [at]

A Holistic Approach: Advancing Women's Health Through Inclusive Strategies and Intersectional Awareness

In response to these glaring disparities, efforts are underway to rectify the situation. The Women’s Health Strategy marks a significant step forward in addressing these issues head-on. The strategy includes initiatives such as increased research funding aimed at tackling maternal disparities, the establishment of specialised women’s health hubs in local health areas. These hubs would serve as central points for women to access a range of services and resources, promoting holistic well-being and the introduction of a dedicated section on women’s health on the NHS website.

In the pursuit of advancing women's health, it's crucial to acknowledge and address the intersecting factors of race and gender. Whilst strides have been made, disparities persist, particularly for ethnic minority women. Black women face profound inequities in maternal healthcare, underscoring the urgent need for targeted interventions and support. A comprehensive women's health strategy must prioritise the well-being of all women, recognising that it is not truly effective if it fails to benefit every woman. It's imperative to ensure that no woman is left behind and to openly discuss the intersectionality of race and health disparities to drive meaningful change.

However, the Gender Health Gap has deep historical roots and presents a formidable challenge to overcome. The historical landscape of women’s healthcare access and research in the UK reveals a stark picture of inequity, underscoring the need for policymakers to draw lessons from the past as they navigate present-day challenges.

Addressing Biases in Clinical Trials for Improved Women's Health Outcomes

Recent studies highlight the detrimental effects of gender biases in clinical trials, contributing to poorer health outcomes for women. A University of Leeds investigation revealed alarming statistics: women with complete coronary artery blockages were 59% more likely to face misdiagnosis compared to men. Additionally, data shows that UK women experience more than double the mortality rate within 30 days following a heart attack. To address these disparities, it's imperative to promote diversity in research, ensuring inclusion and dedicated study of the impacts of various conditions on women.

Moreover, there's a critical need to acknowledge and prioritise female-specific health issues such as heavy menstrual bleeding, endometriosis, pregnancy-related concerns, and menopause, which are often overlooked. Understanding the broader implications of these conditions on workforce participation, productivity, and overall outcomes is crucial. To truly advance women's health, research endeavours must embrace inclusivity, with universities and researchers actively prioritising diversity in their studies to address the distinctive health needs of all women.

The look ahead

Amidst the recent delivery of the budget, it's imperative that women's health initiatives receive adequate funding to sustain and expand essential services. Moreover, with a General Election on the horizon, it's concerning that there's been minimal discourse from government and opposition parties regarding their priorities for women's health.

Moving forward, an incoming government must focus on:

  • Addressing disparities in access and quality of care for marginalised women, particularly ethnic minorities, through targeted interventions and resources allocation.
  • Investing in mental health services tailored to women's needs, ensuring accessibility and affordability.
  • Establishing robust mechanisms for community-based women's health hubs nationwide, providing comprehensive and integrated care closer to home.

On this International Women's Day, let us not only celebrate the accomplishments of women but also recommit ourselves to closing the Gender Health Gap and creating a more equitable and inclusive healthcare system for all.