Gynaecological conditions must be given greater priority to end prolonged suffering for women
The findings of the report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) understanding the scale and impact of waiting lists in gynaecology shows waiting lists across the UK have now reached record levels.
While there has been an increase in waiting times across the board, gynaecology has seen the greatest increase and uniquely has not seen the reduction in numbers waiting for more than a year that every other specialty has. The RCOG report identifies staffing numbers and a failure to recognise the damage done by extended waiting times as the main contributing factors.
I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Endometriosis and Surgical Mesh, both of which are gynaecological conditions. Through my involvement with these I have heard the testimony of many women whose lives have been blighted by what are currently referred to in the NHS as “benign” conditions. Yet these conditions can be so painful and incapacitating that they impact on every aspect of family, social and work life.
Most have already endured long waits for treatment. Endometriosis is the second common gynaecological condition in the United Kingdom and affects around 1.5 million women, yet there is an average wait of seven and a half years from the first visit to a GP to a diagnosis.
Many women's lives have been blighted by what are currently referred to in the NHS as 'benign' conditions
Surgical mesh was used primarily in the surgical repair of pelvic organ prolapse and resulted for some in severe complications which shattered lives. A long campaign by mesh-injured women led to the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety (IMMDS) Review. As a result, specialist mesh treatment centres have been recently established but these too are currently beset with problems of access, waiting times and cancellations.
The report of the IMMDS Review identified the systematic silencing of women’s voices as a contributory factor in the lack of recognition and then action on mesh injury. The RCOG report confirms the pervasive effects of ignoring or dismissing the voices of women. Both the members and women surveyed attributed the way gynaecological conditions were perceived and prioritised as one of the biggest barriers to reducing the length of waiting lists.
However, RCOG members were very clear that the biggest barrier to reducing waiting lists is staffing.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise. In March unfilled posts across health services in England rose to more than 110,000, including nearly 40,000 nurses and over 8,000 doctors.
Yet nearly 800 medical undergraduates who have applied to start training as junior doctors at the start of August have been told there are no places for them, and despite an increase in applicants for nursing degrees this year the number remains below that of 2016; the last time a bursary was last available.
Delays in gynaecological treatment cause prolonged suffering, deteriorating mental health and lead to worse outcomes. Beyond the proper funding and staffing of the NHS, there must be an immediate injection of ring-fenced funding and a serious review of why gynaecology has been deprioritised to the extent it has, beginning with an end to the use of term “benign” to describe debilitating, life-changing conditions.
Emma Hardy is the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle.
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