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Health and Care System: Women’s Experience

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2021

4. If she will take steps with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to improve understanding of women’s experience of health and the health and care system. (904383)

Improving our understanding of women’s experience of health and the health service is a key priority for this Government. That is why in March this year we launched a call for evidence asking women to tell us about their experience. We had nearly 100,000 responses, which we are working through now and which will form the baseline of England’s first-ever women’s health strategy.

Yesterday this House passed a UK-wide ban on virginity testing through the Health and Care Bill, but banning virginity testing will only work if hymenoplasty is banned alongside it. Will the Minister use her good offices to ensure that the Government introduce amendments in another place to ban hymenoplasty and then encourage other countries around the world to stop these practices worldwide?

I am sure that all Members across this House will welcome the Government’s amendment yesterday to ban virginity testing. The evidence for a ban on hymenoplasty is mixed, so the Government have convened an independent expert panel to review all the evidence and look carefully at the issues, and that will report back to Ministers before Christmas.

It is HIV Testing Week in Wales, and yesterday I joined the Terrence Higgins Trust at Fast Track Cardiff and Vale to do my own free home testing kit. In Wales, everybody can get access to a free HIV test at home through Frisky Wales, but in some areas of England free home testing is not available to everyone. Will the Minister work with her Cabinet colleagues to follow where Wales leads and ensure that everyone in England can get access to a free HIV test kit if they wish to?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. Free testing is available across the NHS in England, and same-day test results are often possible. I will look at the specific issue of home testing kits, because it is important that everyone who needs a test has access to it.

One of the times that women most engage with healthcare services is when they are pregnant. My constituent Michelle, a qualified midwife, has contacted me, talking specifically about the importance of retention in midwifery and highlighting the crisis that she says there is. What is my hon. Friend doing to make sure that qualified, experienced midwives stay working at the frontline where we need them?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Maternity care is a top priority for the Government, and earlier this year NHS England announced a £95 million recurrent funding package to support the recruitment of 1,200 midwives and 100 consultant obstetricians. Maintaining both the skill mix and the numbers is key to retaining experienced midwives, who often have to take the pressure when there are staff shortages.