Women more likely to have symptoms ignored by the NHS28 Sep 2022 | Tahsin Choudhury
An increasing number of women in the UK feel brushed off by GPs when presenting with real symptoms, with many feeling like they must push and persuade healthcare professionals for a valid diagnosis. This can lead to years of suffering with pain and disruptive symptoms without any pain relief or treatment. This has been reported in the press.
One condition in which delayed diagnoses are extremely prevalent in is endometriosis, which is where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus appears elsewhere in the body and causes bleeding and ongoing pain. Unfortunately, women presenting with symptoms of endometriosis are often dismissed and told that these are side-effects of heavy periods, and then denied any further testing. This can sadly lead to a breakdown in a relationship between a patient and a GP, and leaves women feeling not listened to and with ongoing symptoms. It also leads to a notion of thought that women are inevitably going to suffer pain and should endure it without seeking help.
The Women’s Health Wales coalition seeks to resolve this and suggests that the healthcare system have a more focussed approach to women’s health in medical training, and for information to be disseminated by each protected characteristic so that no patient’s symptoms go ignored. For example, black women in the UK are four times more likely to die in childbirth.
Women also often suffer from anxiety when attending GP appointments and anticipate that their GP won’t listen to them. Girls as young as 11 years old will present with symptoms of serious conditions similar to menstrual periods to their GP’s and be told to put up with this pain or will even be belittled for having a low pain threshold. These can be serious and debilitating conditions such as endometriosis and haemorrhaging, which can often get much worse with no further investigation and treatment.
Women are also not able to have cervical cancer screenings until 25, and some women with symptoms will unfortunately be denied early screenings on request, leaving cancer undiagnosed and untreated, and not appropriately referred to gynaecologists as early as possible. This has contributed to NHS waiting lists increasing by 60% to over 500,000 patients waiting to be seen for conditions such as endometriosis, prolapse and heavy bleeding. As these health problems are non-cancerous, they are described as “benign”, contributing to the attitude that women’s conditions are not taken seriously as these conditions can be seriously debilitating despite being “benign”. Terminology changes would be a small adjustment on the way to massive improvement for women’s health.
Another worrying issue is that many women experiencing heart attacks are told that they are having panic attacks. Gemma Roberts, policy and public affairs manager at British Heart Foundation Cymru and co – chair of Women’s Health Wales Coalition says
“We hear from patients and from clinicians that women have to see their GPs multiple times before they get a diagnosis. Women often aren’t listened to.
They are told that pain is a normal part of the female experience but actually that isn’t the case. I think we need to be listening to women more about what’s going on with their own bodies.
The Welsh government’s quality statement on women and girls’ health acknowledges, “women’s gendered reporting of lived experience and symptoms can be undervalued, overlooked or dismissed”
The Welsh Government says
‘The health minister has published a new quality statement setting out what is expected of the NHS in Wales in relation to all aspects of women’s health. We have also launched a survey asking women for their views and opinions about their health, which will help inform a women’s health plan to be published later this year. We have received thousands of responses so far.”
Changes need to be made, patients need to be listened to and symptoms assessed and managed accordingly. Otherwise, women will just not seek medical help and advice and this will lead to missed/delayed diagnosis and a possible increase in serious medical conditions being completely undiagnosed with serious consequences for some patients.
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