From strategy to delivery: How a new report from Bayer UK intends to place women at the heart of reproductive health policy
The Bayer Women’s Health and Public Affairs teams with the report in Parliament
Women’s health issues have not always been centre stage when it comes to policy discussions. However, following last year’s launch of the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy, they now rightly have found a place on the agenda. But how can we move from strategy to delivery that makes a difference on the ground? Part of the solution could be found in an important new report, ‘Informed, heard, empowered: placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy’, launched by Bayer UK.
The publication of the Women’s Health Strategy1 by government last year marked an important milestone in the way that the nation addresses the health problems that women experience throughout their lifetimes.
However, a strategy alone will never be enough to transform women’s experiences, particularly when it comes to reproductive healthcare. Driving change also requires practical actions that improve coordination, build awareness, and expand the range of services that women can access wherever they live and whatever their stage of life.
Putting those changes in place is the shared responsibility of businesses, healthcare providers, different tiers of government, and charities. But what are the practical actions that different partners can take to make the biggest difference to women’s health?
Answering this question is the focus of a major new report, ‘Informed, heard, empowered: placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy’, produced by international pharmaceutical company Bayer UK. The report calls for a woman-centred and evidence-based approach to supporting women in maintaining optimal sexual and reproductive health, identifying a series of recommendations that could ultimately lead to higher quality, more accessible, and more consistent care for women across the UK.
Cherilyn Mackrory MP is Co-Chair of the APPG on Women’s Health. She told PoliticsHome that she believes the Bayer report is a valuable step forward that builds on last year’s publication of the Women’s Health Strategy1.
“There is clearly an enthusiasm out there to provide better, more joined-up women’s health services and that is exactly what I have tried to champion as the Co-Chair of the APPG on Women’s Health,” she told PoliticsHome. “The report by Bayer is exciting and I hope that the Government considers some of its practical recommendations encouraging women of all ages to seek assistance with their sexual and reproductive health.”
Romika Purwaha, Head of Women’s Health and Established Products at Bayer UK explained the motivation behind the production of the new report.
“Last year’s Women’s Health Strategy1 was an important step forward but to deliver that strategy we need to address the systemic barriers to care that have been established over many years,” she explains. “This is critical if we are to overcome the stark inequalities seen in reproductive health, and ensure that every woman can achieve optimal outcomes, no matter her background or location.”
The Bayer report covers reproductive health throughout a woman’s life – from sexual health education in school, menstruation, access to contraception during reproductive years, and menopause.
The life course today: key statistics
- 40% of pupils rate quality of relationships and sex education (RSE) as ‘good’ or ‘very good’2
- 6% of women learn about intimate health through school or university education3
- Fewer than half of the specialist clinics offering a service in 2015-16 were still doing so in 2021-224
- 34% of GP practices are only funded to provide LARC for contraceptive purposes, reducing women’s access to highly effective treatments for heavy menstrual bleeding5
- Prescribed LARC rates (excluding injection) vary from below 5 to over 85 per 1,000 women6
- 10% of women who worked during the menopause have left a job due to their symptoms7
- 52% of GPs are not offered enough support to advise and treat women with menopausal symptoms8
One of the key themes that emerges is the need to address current fragmentation to provide more consistency when it comes to reproductive health. In particular, it calls for an end to the ‘postcode lottery’ that women may face around LARC care.
The challenge that many women face when seeking to access care is an issue that is of concern to leading experts. Writing in the report9, Dr Janet Barter, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), highlights the difficulties that the current system presents for women.
“The fragmented sexual and reproductive healthcare system is notoriously difficult for women to navigate,” she writes. “And successive cuts to public health budgets have made it even harder for women to access the contraception they need.”
This is backed up by the data. As part of the public call for evidence that informed the Women’s Health Strategy, just 40% of women reported being able to conveniently access the services they need in terms of location, and 24% in terms of timing10. Sexual and reproductive health services, such as contraceptive provision, were cited as particular challenges, with women from marginalised communities the most likely to report difficulties10.
Crossbench peer and member of the Health APPG, Baroness Watkins, is a British Professor of Nursing and a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing. Commenting on the report and day-to-day challenges that women face when accessing services for sexual and reproductive health, she said:
“Unless there is more consistency in commissioning and care, many women will continue to fall through the cracks when it comes to accessing the right pathways for their sexual and reproductive healthcare needs,” Baroness Watkins tells us. “Whilst last year’s Women’s Health Strategy1 provided a very welcome starting point, making a difference on the ground now requires different partners to work together to deliver. This new report from Bayer helpfully illustrates some of the practical ways that can be achieved.”
That emphasis on the centrality of effective partnerships between government, health providers, healthcare companies, and community partners emerges as a key theme throughout the Bayer report11. In particular, the report welcomes the development of women’s health hubs and the principles that underpin the model, but suggest they need to be underpinned by the changes recommended in the report in order to become truly successful.
For Romika Purwaha cooperation is vital if access is to improve. “The challenge is simply too broad to be addressed by any single sector working alone,” she explains. “Different partners bring different assets, knowhow, and solutions to the table. If we are to deliver better care for women in the future, those collaborations are going to be key.”
Echoing the value of joint working in the report12, Sexual Health Commissioning Lead at Liverpool City Council and Chair of the English HIV and Sexual Health Commissioners’ Group, James Woolgar, who has worked with Bayer and other industry partners to support access to contraception, including LARC in Liverpool, says: “We have been devising more innovative ways to improve care and access to sexual health services amongst a backdrop of rising demand, post-pandemic. A Women’s Health Hub model in Liverpool saw the implementation of an inter-practice referral service offer for LARC via the nine PCNs, using a ‘hub and spoke’ approach.”
Speaking about the benefits of the approach, Woolgar adds: “This work has led to a fast-growing service that sees budgets more effectively combined and clinicians not restrained by the commissioning body.”
The researchers in the report also suggest that partnerships must extend beyond the direct provision of healthcare to also encompass education and awareness raising. There is already growing public awareness of issues around women’s reproductive health and more openness to discussions regarding it. The more awareness there is of the issues faced around reproductive health, the better able women will be to understand the options that are available to them throughout their lives.
This growing awareness, alongside government, practitioners, healthcare companies, and third sector groups working together, gives Cherilyn Mackrory optimism that there is new potential to positively impact on the lives of millions of UK women.
“There is definitely some positive momentum now from the Government, the NHS, and all the supportive charitable bodies who have been championing women’s reproductive issues,” she tells PoliticsHome. “Now is the time for us to use the Women’s Health Strategy1 to shape what improved women’s services look like on the ground and I hope this report by Bayer plays a significant role in doing so.”
Key recommendations from Bayer UK’s report across the life course13
- All pupils should receive high-quality, evidence-based education on vulval anatomy and vaginal health through the national RSE curriculum, with full support for teachers to ensure they have the knowledge, confidence, and tools to deliver effective intimate health education.
- The Women’s Health Strategy’s1 commitment to set out plans for sexual and reproductive health – including ‘a focus on increasing access and choice for all women who want contraception’1 – must be acted upon by DHSC. This should closely align with work to safeguard LARC financial viability.
- All women must be able to access proactive and personalised menopause support in primary care, with digital options made available wherever preferred and clinically appropriate to support providers in managing demand. Menopause support should form a key service of Women’s Health Hubs, with the increasing role of community pharmacy in women’s health leveraged to provide an additional source of support and signposting across the wider system.
- The Government should set a nationally-determined, minimum viable fee for LARC, across gynaecological and contraceptive purposes. Bayer recognises this undertaking will require input from a range of stakeholders, and has recently formed a strategy group to move forward efforts to shape the future of sustainable primary care LARC provision.
‘Informed, heard, empowered: placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy’ was officially launched at the AGM of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health on 4th July. Chaired by Baroness Barker, the report was presented to attendees by Bayer UK’s Romika Purwaha and Marion McPherson, alongside Dr Janet Barter and Women’s Health Ambassador Dame Lesley Regan DBE.
Speaking separately to PoliticsHome following the meeting and commenting on the need to raise women’s reproductive health higher up the policy agenda, Chair of the APPG, Diana Johnson DBE MP, said: “Aside from being a fundamental right, women’s control over when to have children and how many children to have plays a crucial role in improving maternal health, reducing infant mortality and reducing poverty, as women are better able to participate in economic life.”15,16
Reflecting on steps forward in this area over recent years, Johnson said: “I am pleased to see the progress that has been made - from the telemedicine pathway for early medical abortion being made permanent to plans around the establishment of Women’s Health Hubs.”
However, one year on from the publication of the Women’s Health Strategy1, Johnson stressed that much more work still needs to be done: “At today’s AGM of the APPG SRH, we have heard that cuts to budgets, fragmented commissioning and workforce issues continue to negatively impact women’s ability to access contraception. We are also still without a Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Action Plan, as committed to by the Government in 2019.”
Welcoming the publication of Bayer’s report, Johnson said: “Given the need for dedicated national policy leadership on access to contraception, I am pleased to welcome Bayer’s report, ‘Informed, heard, empowered: placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy’, setting out recommendations to enhance provision of reproductive healthcare at critical stages of the life course.”
The APPG on SRH will continue to monitor the implementation of the Women’s Health Strategy1, with a particular focus on ensuring all aspects of reproductive healthcare - including contraception and abortion - form part of this work. In terms of other activity in 2023, the APPG is holding an inquiry looking at the impact of greater integrated provision of reproductive healthcare in reducing inequalities between women in SRH outcomes.
To read ‘Informed, heard, empowered: placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy’ in full and to find out more about Bayer UK’s work on Women’s Health, please click here.
This article has been initiated and funded by Bayer plc who are fully responsible for the content. This article will be reviewed in July 2025.
Job bag number: PP-PF-WHC-GB-1302. Date of publication: July 2023
1. Department of Health and Social Care, Women’s Health Strategy for England, August 2022
2. Sex Education Forum, Young People’s RSE Poll 2022, March 2023
3. 1,600 women, WIH Path to Purchase study, 2019 ‘Different Is Normal’ research by Canesten and sexual health charity Brook, Survey of 1,000 UK women (aged 18-24)
4. NHS Digital, Sexual and Reproductive Health Services, England (Contraception) 2015/16 and 2021/22, accessed June 2023
5. Public Health England, What do women say? Reproductive health is a public health issue, June 2018
6. IQVIA XBPI + HPA National, Dec-22 | NHS EPD and equivalents + IQVIA HPA Regional, Dec-21 and Sep-22
7. World Health Organization, Menopause, October 2022
8. British Menopause Society, The British Menopause Society response to the Department of Health and Social Care’s call for evidence to help inform the development of the government’s Women’s Health Strategy, August 2021
9. Bayer UK, Informed, heard, empowered: Placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy, Page 6, July 2023
10. Department of Health and Social Care, Results of the ‘Women’s Health – Let’s talk about it’ survey, April 2022
11. Bayer UK, Informed, heard, empowered: Placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy, Page 23, July 2023
12. Bayer UK, Informed, heard, empowered: Placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy, Page 24, July 2023
13. Bayer UK, Informed, heard, empowered: Placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy, Pages 19 and 20, July 2023
14. Bayer UK, Informed, heard, empowered: Placing women at the heart of reproductive health policy, July 2023
15. PLOS ONE, Lower infant mortality, higher household size, and more access to contraception reduce fertility in low- and middle-income nations, February 2023
16. K4D, Benefits of investing in family planning, Page 7, December 2016
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