On 20 July, the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) introduced the first women’s health strategy within the country’s National Health System (NHS), which aims to improve the understanding of female-specific health conditions and tackle the health data gap for women in England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the life expectancy for women in the UK is higher than that for men (82.9 years and 79 years, respectively). But despite living longer, women spend more of their life in ill health, which can limit their ability to participate in day-to-day life.
Across England, women report needing a greater focus on female-specific health conditions, including fertility, pregnancy loss, menopause and genealogical conditions such as endometriosis, which affects one in ten women. Closing the gender health gap and improving female-specific healthcare will not only benefit the health and wellbeing of women but will improve the health of society and the economy. GlobalData epidemiologists expect to see an increased prevalence of conditions such as endometriosis over the next five years because of the increased awareness and access to care that this new strategy will bring.
The strategy proposed by the DHSC sets bold ambitions to tackle deep-rooted, systemic issues within the healthcare system and aims to reset how healthcare systems listen to women. The initial commitments include completing new research and data gathering, which will be followed by biennial research questionnaires for the National Institute for Health and Care Research; these will focus on menstrual and genealogical symptoms, with a particular effort to reduce data gaps and identify and overcome barriers that limit women participating in research. This will lead to much-needed opportunities to understand and improve the care of women in healthcare settings. Another of the key commitments is to expand training for incoming doctors and healthcare professionals; this will ensure that women have access to high-quality health information specific to women, and physicians will therefore be much more likely to recognise symptoms and conditions that are only experienced by women.
To support the progress that is already underway, the NHS aims to invest £10m ($12.1m) in breast screening programmes in areas with the greatest challenges in uptake and coverage. It also intends to ensure specialist endometriosis services are available and advice is updated as soon as new research emerges. There will be an increased effort to improve transparency on the provision and availability of in vitro fertilisation (IVF), while additional barriers will be removed for same-sex couples. The government is currently working to establish maternity and menopause taskforces to drive forward the work of improving healthcare support for women at some of the most challenging times in their lives.
According to GlobalData epidemiologists, 345,700 diagnosed prevalent cases of endometriosis are forecast by the end of this year in the UK, which would increase to 348,000 cases by 2030. It is likely, however, that there will be a much greater increase in the diagnosed prevalent cases of endometriosis and other female-specific conditions (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, breast cancer and cervical cancer) due to increased awareness and screening. There is hope that this new strategy will result in early diagnoses and improved patient outcomes in women across the UK.