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Women’s reproductive health has been under-prioritised for too long – meaningful action is needed now

Women’s reproductive health has been under-prioritised for too long – meaningful action is needed now
4 min read

The choice of whether and when to have children is a fundamental right for girls and women. However, this right is often threatened as we have seen with the overturning of Roe vs Wade – a devastating decision removing the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States.

Abortion is but one element of sexual and reproductive health. The unique needs of girls and women throughout their life stretch far beyond this, including access to the full range of contraception methods and being able to effectively manage their menstrual health and menopause symptoms. Having full access over these aspects of healthcare is central to providing women with the best chances of fulfilling their ambitions in life.

Despite this, the direction of travel is deeply concerning for this 51 per cent share of the population. Nearly half of British women experience poor sexual and reproductive health and Covid-19 witnessed almost a doubling of unplanned pregnancies.

Women are subjected to disjointed care – having to go to multiple places for intimate examinations, with different clinicians

Reproductive healthcare suffers from historic under-prioritisation and under-funding at a national level. For too long, it hasn’t had the leadership to oversee and deliver the improvements needed. To make matters worse, responsibility for funding and delivering reproductive health at a local level is split out between various different bodies. This means that women are subjected to disjointed care – having to go to multiple places for intimate examinations, with different clinicians. Women should have as many of their needs as possible met via a single point of contact – for example having an IUD fitted during the same appointment to undergo a cervical cancer smear test.

All this has resulted in poor outcomes both for women as a whole population and inequalities amongst women. Take, for instance, a young girl who – due to the social and cultural norms of her family and local community – does not feel comfortable visiting a sexual and reproductive health clinic or purchasing contraception from a pharmacy. However, if she manages to access contraceptive care via her local GP surgery or specialist clinic – the wait for her to be fitted with her preferred method, an IUD for example, could be three months. The system as it stands is not meeting her individual needs.

The government’s Women’s Health Strategy and Health Disparities White Paper, alongside an action plan for sexual and reproductive health, will hopefully provide much-needed national leadership on these issues. Away from Westminster, the reform of the NHS is taking shape on the ground, and Integrated Care Systems are now statutory bodies – providing improved structures to enable different parts of the system to better work together.

The opportunity is there to drive meaningful action across different parts of the health system. But we must grasp it.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health is calling for policy improvements to enable women and girls to experience high-quality reproductive health at every stage of their lives. Today, the APPG is jointly holding a roundtable meeting with the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) – the voice of over 14,000 sexual and reproductive healthcare professionals in the UK – discussing with stakeholders from across the reproductive health community how we can drive meaningful improvements in women’s reproductive health.

To help set out a framework for what needs to be achieved, FSRH has developed the FSRH Hatfield Vision setting out 16 goals in different areas of sexual reproductive health and 10 actions to help see them realised. To drive this work forward, organisations and bodies in this space are being asked to pledge action to help improve outcomes for girls and women.

The APPG is pledging to promote the fulfilment of sexual reproductive health rights, including access to the full range of contraceptive methods and will be championing this in Parliament.

FSRH is also making a pledge – to call on the government to translate the Vision consensus into meaningful action as it works to implement the Women’s Health Strategy.

Girls and women deserve high-quality comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Only through an ambitious, joined-up policy approach can we achieve this. Join us in making a pledge to help ensure girls and women receive the care to which they have a right.

 

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North. Baroness Barker is a Liberal Democrat peer. They are co-chairs of the APPG on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Dr Asha Kasliwal is president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare.

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