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Women’s Health Strategy

Volume 743: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2024

After a successful first year implementing the women’s health strategy for England, I am pleased to update on our priorities for 2024.

Improving care before, during and after pregnancy

We will continue to deliver NHS England’s three-year plan for maternity services and empower women with information on the improvements that they should expect and deserve during pregnancy and after giving birth.

We will work to prevent and improve support for women who have experienced physical and mental birth trauma. By March, new services to avoid tears during childbirth and to improve maternal mental health will be rolled out across England, alongside updated guidance for GPs.

We will improve post-natal contraception provision and awareness of hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy. We will also continue to support for women and their partners who have experienced pregnancy loss, including through the baby loss certificate service that will be available shortly.

Improving care for gynaecological conditions and menstrual problems

Guidance will be updated this year for gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis and we will work to improve women’s experiences of gynaecological procedures including hysteroscopy. Access to contraception will also be improved through Pharmacy First, which will play a vital role in managing menstrual problems.

The Office for National Statistics will carry out work to improve our understanding of endometriosis diagnosis times and the impact on women in the workforce.

Expanding womens health hubs

We are investing £25 million in women’s health hubs to improve women’s access to care, improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities.

We are working closely with NHS England and the network of women’s health champions to support the establishment of women’s health hubs, and we expect all 42 local systems in England—each integrated care system—to have at least one hub operating this year.

Tackling disparities and improving support for vulnerable women

We will focus on improving support for patients and staff who are victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. NHS trusts and local systems will review their policies, training and support systems for domestic abuse and sexual misconduct this year.

The new acquired brain injury strategy coming later this year will consider the needs of victims of domestic violence with acquired brain injuries. We will implement the recommendations in the NHS England and HM Prison and Probation Service joint national women’s prison health and social care review.

We will also work to reduce maternal disparities, given that data continues to show that black women are almost three times more likely to die during or shortly after pregnancy than white women. Women of Asian ethnic backgrounds are 1.67 times more likely to die than white women.

Boosting research on womens health

Through the first ever National Institute for Health and Care Research—NIHR—challenge fund of its kind, we will provide £50 million to unite researchers, policy-makers, and women, to tackle maternity disparities. The NIHR will continue to encourage bids for better representation of women in research and more research into under-researched women’s health issues such as lobular breast cancer as well as conditions that affect women and men differently, such as heart attacks.

The NIHR recently published a statement of intent for developing policy and practice which sees sex differences fully accounted for in research.

Continuation of existing priorities

Since my the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) wrote to parliamentarians in summer last year outlining the significant achievements made so far, we have made further progress in other areas:

We have published a tool to help people find local fertility commissioning policies in England. We have recently announced changes in the law to remove financial barriers to female same-sex couples accessing IVF, and will continue to work with NHS England to improve access to NHS-funded fertility treatment.

We launched our new women’s health area on the NHS website, a new HRT hub and for the first time new pages on conditions such as adenomvosis.

NHS England announced its aim to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 by making it easier to get the lifesaving human papillomavirus—HPV—vaccination and increasing cervical screening uptake.

The NHS England Pharmacy Contraception Service relaunched to enable community pharmacies to initiate oral contraception. Almost 3,000 contractors have already signed up to the expanded service.

Between its launch on 1 April and 31 December 2023, 484,082 hormone replacement therapy prescription prepayment certificates were purchased, saving women millions of pounds in ongoing prescription charges.

NHS England will continue its work to improve menopause care by piloting new guidance for nurses, GPs and other staff in the midlands to better recognise and treat symptoms.

Helen Tomlinson, the Government’s Menopause Employment Champion, published a plan for the next six months in her role. The Government also launched online resources for employers.

In autumn we ran a reproductive health survey, which received 52,000 responses from women telling us about their experiences across all areas of reproductive health.

The upcoming major conditions strategy will consider the differences between men and women in conditions such as osteoporosis and dementia.

I am delighted to announce the reappointment of Professor Dame Lesley Regan as Women’s Health Ambassador for England for a further two years to December 2025. She will provide expert clinical leadership and support implementation of the strategy.