Commitments to reduce waiting times for diagnosing endometriosis from over eight years to less than 12 months, offer individual care plans after a woman’s first miscarriage and widen access to specialist menopause services form part of the Scottish government’s first women’s health plan, published on Friday.
The plan, which was informed by women’s own testimonies, is described as “the first stage of a long-term commitment to reducing health inequalities for women”. The 68-page document also pledges to appoint a national women’s health champion, establish a research fund to close gaps in scientific and medical knowledge and improve information and public awareness of heart disease symptoms and risks for women.
As she launched the plan, the women’s health minister, Maree Todd, said the evidence that women needed more information and support from the medical establishment was overwhelming.
“Health outcomes for women are poorer than those for men in some vitally important areas such as heart health,” she said on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning.
“Women also have specific health needs, such as support to manage periods, the menopause and conditions such an endometriosis.”
Endometriosis, which can causeaffects an estimated 1.5 million women across the UK, but diagnosis times are alarmingly lengthy.
Asked about the systemic inequalities that women often face in accessing the health services they need, Todd said: “The reality is we live in a men’s world and when we look at systems of all sorts around the world we see inequality for women … We have listened to what women are telling us and we are determined to correct that”.
Responding to the plan, the head of British Heart Foundation Scotland, James Jopling, pointed out that coronary heart disease killed nearly three times as many as women as breast cancer. “At every stage – from the moment they experience symptoms through to their cardiac rehabilitation – women with heart disease can face disadvantages,” he said.
“We need to improve understanding of the risks for women and increase their awareness of the symptoms of a heart attack.”
Todd noted that women suffering heart attacks are described as having “atypical presentation”. “Women don’t present atypically, they present like women do. This just reflects that men are the default setting,” she said.
Angeline Mwafulirwa, the founder of the African women’s network Sharpen-Her, welcomed the emphasis on creating cultural competence in terms of recognising the barriers which might deter women from seeking help.
“The main concern for our communities is access to services, and getting information through to those women who need it,” she said. “For example, with menopause, it is not something we talk about and that impacts on how we perceive what is happening to us and whether we seek help.
“We suffer in silence and there are so many women without our communities who are struggling with things they could get help with. That’s why using ambassadors from within communities to inform women is a good idea.”