All new doctors will be required to complete mandatory women’s health training from 2024, under the Government’s first-ever Women’s Health strategy.
The new strategy for England, published today, also includes a commitment to commission ‘urgent’ research into ‘healthcare professionals’ experiences of listening to women in primary care’.
It follows a call for evidence that generated almost 100,000 responses from across England, which ‘highlighted a need for greater focus on women-specific health conditions’, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The DHSC today announced that the strategy, which aims to tackle the ‘gender health gap’, will ‘ensure all doctors are trained to provide the best care to women by introducing mandatory specific teaching and assessment on women’s health for all graduating medical students and incoming doctors’.
It added that it will introduce ‘specific teaching and assessments on women’s health in undergraduate curricula for all graduating medical students from 2024 to 2025 and for all incoming doctors’.
The strategy said: ‘Improvements to curricula and assessment will ensure that the next generation of healthcare professionals are better educated in women’s health.
‘However, it is also vital that currently practising health and care professionals are supported to continuously learn and update their knowledge in women’s health.’
It added that among responses to the call for evidence, there was a ‘particular emphasis on education for GPs’, with some calling for ‘compulsory training for GPs on women’s health to help create a supportive and informed environment in which women would feel comfortable coming forward to discuss issues’.
The DHSC said it will also commission ‘urgent research by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) into healthcare professionals’ experiences of listening to women in primary care, with a focus on menstrual and gynaecological symptoms to inform policy to ensure women’s voices are heard’.
Women will also be surveyed every two years to gather insights into their experience of reproductive health services.
It added that this comes as: ‘Feedback from thousands of women across the country revealed that they feel their voices were not always listened to and there was a lack of understanding or awareness among some medical professionals about health conditions which affect women.’
The strategy also includes commitments around:
- ‘Major’ new research on women’s health issues to increase understanding of female-specific health conditions
- Updating guidance for female-specific health conditions such as endometriosis
- £10 million investment in the breast screening programme to provide 25 new mobile breast screening units for areas with the lowest uptake
- Improvements to fertility services including improving ‘transparency on provision and availability’ and removing barriers to IVF for female same-sex couples
- Recognising parents who have lost a child before 24 weeks through the introduction of a pregnancy loss certificate in England
- Ensuring women have ‘access to high-quality health information’ such as via the NHS website
- Publishing a definition of ‘trauma-informed practice’ and ‘encouraging its adoption in health settings’
- Exploring how to ‘capitalise on points of interaction that women have with the healthcare system’ such as postnatal checks with GPs
It said that a new NHS cervical screening management system is ‘in development’ to replace the current call/recall system, which will allow GPs and sexual health providers to manually opt in eligible transgender men and non-binary people for an automatic screening invitation.
‘Further work’ could include ‘best practice guidance’ for GPs to support socially excluded women such as those experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping, it added.
The DHSC said the strategy ‘sets bold ambitions to tackle deep-rooted, systemic issues within the health and care system to improve the health and wellbeing of women and reset how the health and care system listens to women’.
Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Our health and care system only works if it works for everyone. It is not right that 51% of our population are disadvantaged in accessing the care they need, simply because of their sex.
‘The publication of this strategy is a landmark moment in addressing entrenched inequalities and improving the health and wellbeing of women across the country.’
The Primary Care Women’s Health Forum welcomed the ‘long-overdue recognition of women’s health concerns’ but said that the strategy ‘brings with it both opportunities and challenges’.
Forum chair Dr Anne Connolly said: ‘The strategy brings opportunities to reduce inequalities by delivering holistic care at scale, care that is acceptable and accessible for the local population – such as that delivered within Women’s Health Hubs. However, this requires funding to be identified with appropriate commissioning and payment arrangements.
‘Funding will be the key challenge to implementing the strategy’s recommendations. It will be difficult to realise the vision without extra financial support or a clear plan for workforce development at a time when health services are already at capacity.’
The DHSC suggested in December that GPs should have ‘compulsory training’ in women’s health, including the menopause.
However, GPs pointed out that ‘all GPs are trained in women’s health’ as part of their training.
It comes as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has today given the green light for certain vaginal HRT tablets to be available over the counter without a GP prescription.