VODG responds to Women’s Health Strategy consultation

11 June 2021

VODG has today submitted a response to the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) call for evidence on the Women’s Health Strategy.

The government’s new Women’s Health Strategy will set out an “ambitious and positive new agenda on women’s health, with women’s voices at the centre”.

The DHSC consultation sought views to better understand women’s experiences of health, and the health and care system to help inform the priorities, content and actions within the Strategy.

The VODG submission, which was informed by engagement with our member organisations, explored this issue from two lenses: the first as providers of services to disabled women, the second as employers of disabled women and more widely, as providers in a sector that is one of the biggest employers of women, disabled and non-disabled.

Key points raised in the submission, included:

  • There exists bias and assumptions among healthcare professionals about the health and care of disabled women and greater disability awareness is required.
  • The importance of the role of the support worker as advocates for the disabled people they support, is undervalued by health professionals and more could be done to realise the benefits of this role.
  •  Clearer, more accessible information and advice on how to make complaints and address poor, or discriminatory practice, is required.
  • Accessibility and accessible information are essential components in improving how healthcare information is accessed and understood.
  • The government’s workforce planning for social care needs to address expected demand, recruitment and retention but also needs to include a strategic focus on building healthy working environments that support women to recognise and discuss women’s health issues.
  • Women, and disabled women in particular, were already less likely to have health issues addressed and face challenges with accessing health and care services before COVID-19. As such, there are a number of women currently living with undetected or underlying health conditions that could be addressed.

It also made a series of recommendations to DHSC, including:

  • Increase and improve disability awareness, and remove bias, among healthcare professionals through appropriate training and educational programmes that is informed by lived experience.
  • Ask the Care Quality Commission, and its regulatory partner Ofsted, to undertake a thematic review across health, adult social care and children’s social care assessing the implementation of the Accessible Information Standard and to make recommendations.
  • Ask NHS England and NHS Improvement to review the annual health check to ensure female/women’s health issues are addressed.
  • Ensure the Government’s Workforce Strategy for social care, and future reform, includes specific policies and recommendations for creating healthy working environments and include guidance women-specific health issues.

Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of VODG, said:

“A tailored response to women’s health is vital because we know that currently the health care system is not fully meeting the mental and physical health needs of women. Additionally, a tailored response to disabled women’s health and wellbeing is necessary because there are additional layers of systemic bias and disability discrimination, compounded by gender discrimination, experienced by disabled women that means health issues are not being addressed or are being overlooked.

“It is vital that the Women’s Health Strategy has at its core the voice of women, all women, and that it seeks to address historical inequities.

“We would further urge DHSC to ensure development of this strategy is cross-government priority in which DHSC is working closely with colleagues across different government departments to address inequities that exist outside of health and care but that are intrinsically linked to health and care.”

VODG Media Centre