The CSP has called for the government to improve flexible working and put a stop to pregnancy and maternity discrimination within healthcare settings.
The CSP made the call in its submission to the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy consultation, which the Government claims will reduce health inequalities, improve wellbeing and ensure health services are meeting the needs of women.
It was one of a raft of urgently needed improvements to healthcare outlined in the CSP submission, which covered all aspects of how women experience the health and care system, both as patients and workers.
Women wait longer to be diagnosed for many conditions, including cancer. They are more likely to have heart disease misdiagnosed. Women are also more likely to wrongly have their physical symptoms ascribed to mental health issues, and at the same time are more likely to experience depression and anxiety as a result of a physical long-term condition. The problems of delayed and incorrect diagnosis and treatment disproportionately experienced by women contributes to health inequity.
The inequity in women’s access to health is compounded by factors including ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic background.
Closing the gender health gap
In order to address health inequities, a shared decision-making approach should be incorporated into the NHS Long Term Plan, which would ensure clinicians clinicians developed plans in partnership with women, led by patient insight and meaningful goals based on ‘what matters to me’.
The CSP’s recommendations on healthcare for women also included greater access to MSK First Contact Physiotherapists in primary care, an increase in specialist pelvic health physiotherapists and the expansion of community based rehabilitation to address unmet needs among women.
Prevention was also an area needing greater investment from the Government, according to the CSP, which focused on the need for an expanded falls prevention services to reduce deaths, disability and dependency amongst older women, and access to occupation health physiotherapy for women at work to stop MSK problems from developing.
But in order to better understand health inequalities, more data was needed. The CSP recommended that data collection in primary care and national audits of rehabilitation provision include socio-demographic data, and data on all those with rehab needs not accessing services.
Deliver on workplace improvements
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted inequalities in the workplace as a rise in the number of women not receiving appropriate risk assessments, protective equipment, or work adjustments inadequate PPE measures disproportionately impacted the health of women working in health and care. Tackling inadequate PPE measures should be an immediate priority, argued the CSP.
CSP also submitted evidence showing members struggle to juggle shift work with childcare, with many experiencing workplace stress due to a lack of flexible working, and hundreds leaving the profession for alternative careers.
The CSP urged the Government to monitor the NHS’s efforts at raising the profile of flexible working to ensure a consistent application for all staff, with lessons incorporated into government’s policies for other workplaces.
The CSP has also joined with other unions to call for legislation to help tackle workplace pregnancy and maternity discrimination. New legislation for older workers could also lead to workplaces developing and consistently applying policies that offer better support to staff experiencing the menopause.
In emphasising the urgent need for reform, the CSP highlighted the consequences of gender inequality within physiotherapy, as women working in the NHS are more likely to experience stress, and develop MSK problems, than male counterparts.
Claire Sullivan, CSP Director of Employment Relations and Union Services, said: “Health inequalities will only narrow if the government is willing to put women’s views and experiences at the heart of this reshaping of our healthcare system.
But to achieve real change, women must also be active and listened to in their trade unions as we campaign together for progress.
Change is long overdue
Kate Lough, Chair of the Pelvic, Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy network, said the Women’s Health Strategy must commit to widescale reform.
“In pelvic health this initiative is long overdue,” she said. “Over their lifetime, women with prolapse, incontinence or pelvic pain cope for too long when relatively simple and cheap interventions could improve their quality of life beyond anything they had hoped for.
“Inadequate information and inconsistency of access and provision of treatment adds to their difficulties.
“In the wake of the Cumberlege Report, it is vital that both funders and health care providers alike seize this moment as a first step towards closing this gender gap.”
Last year’s Cumberlege Report into independent medicines and medical devices safety urged the Government to apologise for failures including causing thousands of women traumatic complications as a result of medical interventions for incontinence or prolapse, prompting the creation of the Patient Safety Commissioner for England role.
Read the CSP's submission below.
Women’s Health Strategy, CSP response, June 2021
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