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Women feel ‘patronised’ and ‘diminished’ by doctors, Health minister says

3 min read

Women often feel “patronised” and “diminished” by medical practitioners, Jackie Doyle-Price has said.

The Mental Health Minister suggested that doctors don’t understand women’s needs because the profession is “overwhelmingly male” and said there needs to be a conversation about the “asymmetric” relationship between medics and patients.

In an interview with The House magazine, Ms Doyle-Price said women often feel uncomfortable about talking about their problems with health professionals and would instead “suffer in silence”.

And she said that women need “much more informed consent” to procedures and medications prescribed by doctors.

“The relationship between the doctor and patient is not an equal one. The doctor is the expert, the patient defers and basically present themselves saying, ‘fix me’. But actually, there needs to be a proper conversation about that,” she told The House.

“There are a lot of issues about the asymmetry in that relationship, but they become particularly acute when you look at women. Quite often, the profession is still overwhelmingly male.

“A lot of the conditions that we as women present with are quite uncomfortable to talk about and a bit embarrassing. So, again, that doesn’t make for a good conversation.”

She added: “We need to get generally, but particularly with women, a much more informed consent of anyone to any procedure or medication that they’re taking.

“We often get sent away with prescriptions, but we need to realise that none of these things we’re taking are Smarties. Every treatment we have has a consequence and we as patients need to be much better at properly assessing the risks to ourselves and having those informed conversations with practitioners.

“There is another point about women as well,” she continued. “There is not a single female MP who hasn’t told me at some point they felt patronised and diminished whilst trying to access health treatments.

“Now, we are all pushy, articulate, good-at-looking-after-ourselves kinds of women. If we’ve had that experience then clearly there’s a wider issue here. We need to do something about that.

“That’s about changing the behaviour of practitioners, but also giving women the tools to help them do the job and look after themselves.”

Ms Doyle-Price cited the vaginal mesh scandal as an example of how “there isn’t a proper conversation between women and health professionals about the conditions that affect them”. 

The frontbencher also said there was a lot of “ignorance” about common conditions that women face, including incontinence, the menopause and endometriosis.

“We are part of a societal transition here, and it’s certainly true that the worst case of this would have been when it was much more male dominated. Increasingly, women can choose to be seen by a woman. So, that’s all very welcome and that will help,” she said.

“But there is still a lot of ignorance about fairly common conditions, just because we don’t like talking about them.”

She added: “There’s a public education piece there. We talk about PSHE and all the rest of it. Again, we do all this education in mixed classes, so it’s not the most comfortable to do, talk about things like periods in a mixed class.

“We’ve really got to think about giving all women the tools to be able to look after themselves and think, ‘hang on, there’s a problem here’, and not just suffer in silence because it’s all a bit embarrassing and messy.”

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