Women facing widespread barriers to essential services

A new survey of over 3,000 women in the UK shows that many are struggling to access basic healthcare services including contraception, abortion care and menopause support.

As part of its Better for Women report, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is calling for better joined up services and emphasises the need for national strategies to meet the needs of girls and women across their life course – from adolescence, to the middle years and later life.

This includes a recommendation that one-stop women’s health clinics provide reproductive and sexual healthcare services – such as contraception, STI testing, cervical screening, and treatment and advice about the menopause – in one location and at one time to improve services for women and make savings for the NHS.

The survey found that 48 per cent of women think that a one-stop-shop women's health clinic for all routine women's health services could improve their access to these services.

The report also urges that there should also be greater focus on moving the UK away from providing a disease intervention service towards a preventative health service.

This follows findings that 37 per cent of women are unable to access contraception services and 60 per cent of women cannot access unplanned pregnancy services, including abortion care locally. Furthermore, 34 per cent of women did not attend their last smear test, despite the cervical screening programme being able to prevent up to 70 per cent of deaths from cervical cancer. Furthermore, only 50 per cent of women are able to access sexually transmitted infections (STI) services and 56 per cent of women are unable to seek help for menstrual health issues, such as for heavy/painful periods, locally.

Lesley Regan, president of the RCOG, said: “It is time for a new and bold approach to transform women’s health services and we look forward to working with many key partners to bring about much needed changes across the NHS and particularly in the community.

“Many of the barriers to access to women’s healthcare services can be improved by ensuring services are joined up and more responsive to the needs of girls and women. It is important we provide a comprehensive health service for girls and women throughout their lives. We want to empower 51 per cent of the population to be as healthy as possible and ensure no one is left behind. This doesn’t need to come at a great financial cost to the NHS. In fact, we believe we can do better for less.”

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