“Our Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy for England” was published on 23 December 2021. This sets out our ambitions and next steps for women’s health, mapped against what we have been told through the women’s health strategy call for evidence. It reflects the commitment this Government are making to women’s health and will set the direction of future work.
The vision is informed by the evidence we received in our call for evidence. This was announced in March this year on International Women’s Day, to support the development of the women’s health strategy. It ran for 14 weeks to 13 June 2021 and comprised three components:
A public survey
We received nearly 100,000 responses from individuals in England who wanted to share their own experiences, the experiences of a female family member, friend or partner, or their reflections as a healthcare professional.
We received over 400 written responses from organisations with expertise in women’s health which were used to inform the vision document.
We also commissioned focus groups with women to acquire depth of insight. The resulting independent academic report has recently been published on the University of York website and can be found here:
I would like to extend my thanks to every person and organisation who took the time to share their experiences through the call for evidence and spread the word about the consultation. It is thanks to these participants that we were able to acquire such rich insights into views on women’s health.
Recent progress on women’s health
While we have been working to analyse the huge number of responses for the call for evidence, we have not waited to take action. In July we published the Government response to the Cumberlege report which focused on how the system listens to women when they raise concerns about their health and safety.
In October, I announced several measures designed to improve menopause care. This included amendments to the charging regulations to reduce the cost burden of HRT for menopausal women and a new UK-wide menopause taskforce which will hold its inaugural meeting shortly.
Earlier this year, we committed to ban the abhorrent practice of virginity testing in our strategy for tackling violence against women and girls as part of our commitment to safeguard women and girls. In November 2021, the Government delivered on this commitment by bringing forward a Government amendment to the Health and Care Bill to ban virginity testing, which was passed unopposed in the House.
This activity marks a significant improvement in many areas which touch upon women’s health. However, there is clearly much more to be done.
Our Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy and Analytical Report of the Call for Evidence
On 23 December 2021, the government published the analytical report of the call for evidence and “Our Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy for England”.
The analytical report of the call for evidence sets out the findings from the public survey. This has provided rich insight into women’s experiences and priorities for their health and care, and at times makes for sobering reading.
84% of respondents said there have been instances when they were not listened to by healthcare professionals.
Nearly two in three respondents with a health condition or disability said they do not feel supported by the services available for individuals with their condition or disability
58% of respondents said they felt uncomfortable talking about health issues with their workplace and 7% were not sure how they felt. These issues do not affect all women equally. White respondents felt the most comfortable discussing health issues at work (37%), while the Asian and Other ethnic group felt the least comfortable (30% and 29% respectively)
There are no quick and easy solutions to some of the entrenched problems within the system. However, I am determined to make sure that we act on the concerns that women have shared with us. This Government and our stakeholders across the system are committed to doing better for women.
Respondents were also given the opportunity to share the conditions which were most important to them. Their responses give us the mandate to look carefully at women’s health across the life course and make meaningful change.
The priority topics for women varied by age, broadly aligning with the stage of their life. However, the overall top five topics respondents want to see prioritised for inclusion in the women’s health strategy are:
fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and post-natal support
menstrual health; and
Insight from the written submissions has also informed the development of the vision. We will publish a separate report, based on the written evidence submitted by organisations and individuals with expertise in this field, in early 2022.
Alongside the analysis of the call for evidence, we also published “Our Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy for England” which sets out our ambitions for women and girls’ health in England.
The phenomenal volume of responses to the call for evidence has meant that analysis has taken longer than anticipated. It was essential that we gave the analysis the level of rigour it deserved, in order to understand fully what we have been told by the public.
It was also important to me to share the analysis with Parliament and the public as soon as possible and show the clear direction it has given us. As such, we are publishing our vision now and will follow up with the full women’s health strategy in spring 2022.
The vision document first sets out our life course approach to women’s health, and our thematic priorities which cut across all stages of the life course:
On women’s voices, our ambition is for all women to feel comfortable talking about their health and to no longer face taboos when they do talk about their health. We will also work to better understand the causes of women not feeling listened to make sure any interventions address the root cause.
On healthcare policies and services, our ambition is that women can access services that meet their needs across throughout their lives. We want to support local systems to deliver models of care that work for women. We will also work to explore improvements in care for specific conditions where disparities are greatest.
On information and education, our ambition is to make sure that all women will have access to high quality information and education from childhood through to adulthood, in school and beyond. Further, clinicians must feel confident to deliver information and high-quality care more broadly to women. To do this, clinicians need to have high quality, relevant training on women’s health.
On health in the workplace, our ambition is that ail women feel supported in the workplace and can reach their full potential at work. We are conducting work relating to the menopause in the workplace which we hope will act as best practice for other conditions.
On research, evidence and data, our ambition is to embed routine collection of demographic data of participants in research trials to make sure that our research reflects the society we serve. We are also committed to looking into the gender data gaps further and identifying where there are differences in conditions between genders.
In addition to these themes, the vision sets out our ambitions on priority conditions where the call for evidence highlighted particular issues or opportunities. These include but are not limited to:
menstrual health and gynaecological conditions
fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support
healthy ageing and long-term conditions
mental health; and
the health impacts of violence against women and girls
On this last point on violence against women and girls, I was pleased to be able to announce on the 23 December 2021 the immediate action that this Government are taking to protect women and girls from harm.
When the Government published the tackling violence against women and girls strategy earlier this year, we committed to establishing an expert panel to review whether we should ban hymenoplasty. This is a procedure to reconstruct the hymen, with the intended purpose of causing bleeding during sexual intercourse.
We established the independent panel due to concerns that the uptake for the procedure, which although it is regulated, is intrinsically linked to virginity testing, and stems from the same repressive attitudes towards a women’s sexuality and the concept of virginity.
In December, the panel recommended to Government that hymenoplasty should be banned.
As announced before Christmas, the Government agreed with this recommendation and will introduce legislation to ban hymenoplasty as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Next steps for developing the Women’s Health Strategy
In spring 2022 we will publish the full women’s health strategy, building on our vision and ambition, and set out in detail our plans for meeting the specific health needs of women throughout the different stages of their lives.
To support this, we will appoint the first ever women’s health ambassador for England.
This person will focus on raising the profile for women’s heath, increasing awareness of taboo topics, and bringing in a range of collaborative voices to develop the women’s health strategy.
The ambassador will develop networks across and outside of Government to champion women’s health and break down stigmas which surround particular areas of women’s health.
I am pleased to announce that we will shortly be launching an expression of interest for this role. I would encourage applications from candidates who have experience in the sector and a passion for women’s health. I look forward to working with the post-holder to drive forward this agenda even further as we develop the strategy.
This vision speaks to the commitment of this Government to women’s health. It sets the direction for the strategy we are developing over the coming months. In spring 2022, we will publish the full women’s health strategy building on our vision and ambition and set out in detail our plans for specific health needs that women experience throughout their lives.
I am excited about the coming months and what we will be able to achieve in the long-term. The publication of “Our Vision for Women’s Health for England” and the analytical publication of the call for evidence marks a key milestone in women’s health.
I am confident that based on the evidence and a clear vision, we will be able to make progress on the issues that matter most to women, in developing the strategy for spring 2022.