Skip to main content

Healthcare for Women

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 6 June 2023

This is the first Government to produce a women’s health strategy in England. We are making huge progress on the eight priorities in our first year, from introducing the hormone replacement therapy pre-payment certificate, which is reducing the cost of HRT for women, to the £25 million roll-out of women’s health hubs across the country. We will be announcing our second-year priorities in due course.

Half of all women over 50 will experience bone fractures due to osteoporosis, and many of these will be serious hip fractures. As many women will die from these fractures as from lung cancer or diabetes. Can the Minister explain why not even one of the 63 key performance indicators set by NHS England for integrated care boards sets a target for fracture prevention?

I thank the hon. Lady for her work in this space. She is campaigning hard on this issue. I reassure her that osteoporosis is in the women’s health strategy and is a priority area for us. We are already working to make sure that women’s vitamin D status is known, and to make sure that we fill gaps. NHS England is expanding fracture services for high-risk women with osteoporosis, and it is working to prevent falls. The women’s health ambassador is raising the profile of osteoporosis so that women who are at higher risk can take action to prevent fractures and falls in the first place.

Women too often struggle with needless pain through standard but invasive procedures, such as hysteroscopies and intrauterine device fittings, offered without any pain relief. Our pain is being misunderstood and ignored. How much unnecessary pain must Ministers see women endure before the Government finally deliver on the pain management promised in the women’s health strategy? And why is this a 10-year ambition instead of a more immediate one?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and let me also pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), who has campaigned hard in this space. I met a group of women to discuss painful hysteroscopies just a few weeks ago. This is a priority in the women’s health strategy, as the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) said. We are working with the royal college to update its guidelines, because a lot of these issues are associated with women’s consent, the provision of information before these procedures, and women knowing that they can have them under a local or general anaesthetic and can also ask for pain control. This is not working in practice, which is why it is a priority in the women’s health strategy.

Women living with HIV of course have the right to healthcare on the same terms as anyone else, except that now they do not when it comes to starting a family. Many people living with HIV are currently excluded from accessing fertility treatment, both by law and by the Government’s microbiological safety guidelines. So will the Government now follow the scientific evidence, particularly on undetectable viral load, and remove what are surely discriminatory restrictions on the basis of HIV status?

I thank the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee for his question, as he raises an important point. Last year, we asked the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs to reconsider this specific issue. It set up a working group in June last year to look at it and we expect its recommendations this month. We will take them seriously and address them swiftly once we have its advice.

So many women’s health issues begin with birth and pregnancy, as health is often dependent on the care and aftercare that women receive. Will my hon. Friend give the House an update on the recruitment of midwives and maternity teams, as Gloucestershire NHS is working so hard on that, in order to fully reopen Stroud Maternity Hospital?

I thank my hon. Friend, who does a huge amount of work supporting her local midwives in Stroud. I can give her encouraging news: not only have we spent £190 million on midwifery services, but we are seeing an increased number of midwives coming through midwifery training. Excitingly, we have a nurse conversion course, which takes 18 months, with NHS England paying the tuition fees for nurses to convert to being midwives. We have had 300 in training this year and we are expanding that to 500 in the next academic year. We have encouraging retention rates too, which show that midwives are not only joining the profession, but staying in it.

There is a particular group of women whose health needs should be highlighted during Carers Week: women who look after an older or disabled relative. The majority of unpaid carers in their 50s and 60s are women. Eight million unpaid carers have seen their own health suffer, with those providing high levels of care twice as likely to have poor health as people without caring responsibilities. So will the Minister finally commit to a cross-Government national carers strategy, including health issues in it, as the last Labour Government did? That is a key demand during this year’s Carers Week.

I thank the shadow Minister for her question. My colleague the Minister for Social Care is hosting an event today for carers, and £300 million for carers in the better care fund has also been released. I am a carer for my dad, who thankfully is well and spritely, so I understand the pressures of this. Recently, I met carers from Kinship; often they are grandparents, and older aunts and uncles, who look after young children. Work is going on between us and the Department for Education on how we can better support kinship carers, who do fantastic work in looking after young children. We fully recognise the issue, and the Social Care Minister is not just providing funding, but meeting those carers to see how we can better support them.