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Third of women have severe reproductive health problems, finds PHE survey

Nearly a third of women experience severe reproductive health problems, with around half of those with either mild or severe symptoms seeking help, a survey from Public Health England has found.

A survey of 7,367 women revealed that 31% had experienced severe reproductive health symptoms in the past year – which include heavy menstrual bleeding, infertility, incontinence and menopause – and 47% reported mild symptoms.

But only 24% of those with severe symptoms, and 22% with mild symptoms, had sought help, according to a PHE report on the survey, which looked at a range of reproductive health issues and the impact on women’s lives.

Meanwhile, 80% of women using contraceptive pills received them from the GP, although more than half would prefer to receive them elsewhere, such as in a pharmacy or online.

Other findings included that for longer-acting methods of contraception, younger women were relatively more likely to use sexual health clinics than older women – who tended to see their GP. But women using the GP were generally most satisfied with their place of care, added the report.

Existing studies show 12% of women have taken a day off work due to menopause symptoms and 59% have lied to their boss about the reasons for their absence, noted PHE.

It said the report shows for the first time the extent to which reproductive health issues affect women’s ability to work and go about their daily lives.

The findings from the report will form the basis of a cross-governmental five-year action plan on reproductive health, said PHE.

‘The relative importance of reproductive issues varies between individuals and also at different stages of life. Many women have difficulties that impact on their wellbeing,’ said the report, published today.

‘These impacts are often overlooked by both women themselves and those around them. Reproductive experiences and choices for women are embedded in and influenced by societal constructs,’ it added.

Dr Sue Mann, PHE’s public health consultant in reproductive health, said: ‘Women’s reproductive health concerns can fundamentally influence physical and mental well-being throughout their whole life course.

‘Our research has highlighted that while individual reproductive health issues and concerns change throughout a woman’s life, the feelings of stigmatisation and embarrassment were almost universal. 

‘The report reveals the need for an open and supportive approach in the workplace and in the health system.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Even though in the modern day we don’t expect there to be social stigmas around women’s health matters, unfortunately – as this research shows – stigma does still exist and it is concerning that many women do not seek help for conditions which can often be very serious.

‘As GPs we strive to offer a safe space for all our patients to discuss any health matter they may be experiencing, and women should feel reassured that GPs deal with a wide range of female and sexual health consultations that are often of a sensitive and complex nature.’

Meanwhile, the BMA today passed a motion at its annual representatives meeting calling for sanitary products to be available for inpatients in hospitals, as well as calling for the Government to provide them more widely for free.