Women’s Healthcare: the current Scottish Landscape

Women’s healthcare: the Scottish landscape today

On the 12th of February, it was International Women’s Health Day. Considering the burdens that have been adversely placed on women throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the heightened stress levels in their daily lives. Whether that stress is from working on the frontline, shouldering the majority of care work1, or suffering from inadequate healthcare provision – it seems more important than ever to reflect on the current environment of women’s health.

Women in Scotland – and across the world – are systematically discriminated against in healthcare practices. Not only is scientific and medical research designed around a male subject, resulting in delayed or inaccurate diagnoses for women, but at the point of trying to access healthcare, they are undertreated, and their worries dismissed.2

For example, women are more likely to experience some of the less ‘common’ symptoms of a heart attack such as shortness of breath and back or jaw pain. As they aren’t experiencing the ‘classic’ symptoms (i.e. those observed from research on male participants) of a heart attack, many women are misdiagnosed and are consequently less likely than men to be prescribed drugs that reduce the chance of a second heart attack.3

These inequalities are even more visible for disabled women, trans and non-binary persons and women of racialised minorities, who encounter further specific logistical barriers when accessing healthcare, such as a lack of adequate communication provision, including BSL or an appropriate translator.4

 

Women's Health in Scotland

Key statistics

 

The Scottish Government published the Women’s Health Plan in August 2021 in an effort to address prevailing healthcare inequalities and improve women’s health across areas including maternity care, menstrual health and heart health. This Plan is the first of its kind in the UK, in a bid to mark Scotland as a ‘world leader’ in women’s health parity.

Some of the key actions outlined in the Plan include commissioning endometriosis research, developing a menopause and menstrual health workplace policy, and improving access to abortion services. These commitments come as a much-needed change in approach to women’s health issues, particularly as more research on women’s experiences of inadequate healthcare come to light.

At the end of January, Endometriosis UK produced a report commissioned by the Scottish Government to deliver an analysis of endometriosis service provision. What this report concluded is that the base level of care for endometriosis in Scotland is currently not being met.5 Endometriosis is estimated to affect one in ten women in Scotland.

Despite this high prevalence, the average time to receive a diagnosis from the onset of symptoms in Scotland is a staggering 8.5 years. Even after diagnosis, many women still struggle with getting the appropriate care required to manage what can be a very debilitating condition. As outlined in the Women’s Health Plan, the Scottish Government has committed to reducing diagnosis times from 8.5 years to under one year, which will greatly improve women’s treatment options and their care experiences.

Similarly, social factors can impact women’s ability to access health services to a greater extent than for men. Between 2017 and 2020, single women with children had the highest rate of poverty; moreover, women are extremely overrepresented in low-paid and unstable occupations.6 Poverty is one of the greatest factors contributing to healthcare inequalities and women in Scotland are at a major disadvantage.

Covid-19 has exacerbated health inequalities and women have been forced to accept reduced healthcare access and further discrimination where it was already poor. Let’s hope that the Women’s Health Plan, along with some urgently-needed changes to the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Recovery Plan, initiate the change that is needed in order to make healthcare provision in Scotland equal for everyone.

 

Endnotes

1              61% of unpaid carers in Scotland are women; see Scottish Government (2021) Women’s Health Plan.

2              R Norton, S Peters, V Jha, S Kennedy, M Woodward. (2016) Women’s Health: A New Global Agenda, University of Oxford, p.4 https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/briefings/women’s-health.pdf

3              British Heart Foundation (2019) Bias and Biology Policy Report, p.15-17 https://www.bhf.org.uk/women-scotland

4              Engender (2018) Our Bodies, Our Rights Report. Available at: DAWR (engender.org.uk)

5              Endometriosis UK (2022) Analysis of Endometriosis Service Provision in Scotland – Final_0.pdf (endometriosis-uk.org)

6              Scottish Government (2021) Women’s Health Plan, p.9. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/news/womens-health-plan/