Endometriosis is finally being taken seriously by the government
This is what we like to hear!
words Megan Wallace
In case you somehow missed the memo, the gender health gap is well and truly alive in the UK. When comparing health outcomes for women and people with wombs to those for men, there are some stark inequalities – for which the UK ranks as 12th worst in the world. Yep, it's not looking so good, is it?
This health gap impacts universal conditions like mental health or even the treatment of health problems, with women historically excluded from clinical drugs trials and therefore more likely to suffer negative side effects when pharmaceuticals are released on the market. However, health disparities can be particularly pronounced when it comes to gynaecological or menstrual conditions, such as endometriosis.
If you're not already aware, endometriosis is a condition resulting in chronic pain which can occur continuously but become particularly intense while on your period, while having sex or when going to the toilet. Other symptoms include headaches, fatigue, nausea and diarrhea, as well as fertility issues. We know that the condition is caused by tissue similar to what is found in the womb growing in other areas of the body, such as the fallopian tubes or ovaries.
Endometriosis has a hugely negative impact on people's lives, with a recent study by the University of Queensland Australia showing a significant dip in women working full time before and after being diagnosed. However, it can take a huge amount of time for women and people with wombs to even access an endo diagnosis and associated support: a 2020 UK parliamentary inquiry placed the average time from symptoms to diagnosis as 7.5 years. The same report pointed to additional barriers faced by women and non-binary people of colour, who discussed feeling dismissed or overlooked by medical professionals when seeking help.
With an estimated 1 in 10 of women and people with wombs suffering from endometriosis, it's disheartening to think of how many people have struggled to have their pain recognised by the medical establishment. However, it thankfully looks like change might be on the horizon, with the publication of the first Women's Health Strategy for England, a new set of commitments from the government which seeks to tackle the gender health gap and make significant changes to the way endometriosis is treated in the UK.
Some of these changes include:
Improving access to services
The strategy has made a commitment to "ensuring women can access services that meet their reproductive health needs across their lives" and explicitly make a promise to prioritise services for conditions that specifically impact women and people with wombs, including endometriosis. This would involve increasing the support for conditions such as endo and making sure that it is a priority, rather than an afterthought, through an increase in the availability of specialised care.
More accessible and available information on endometriosis
The report makes claims that surveys on reproductive health will be commissioned every two years to help gather further data around the experiences of women and people with wombs, allowing medical issues and trends to be spotted and therefore allow for more research or resources to be allocated if necessary. In the longer term, it also mentions the possibility of further surveys for specific conditions including, you guessed it, endometriosis. This doesn't sound like much but if it really does happen, it will go a huge way to tackling inequalities across gynaecological and reproductive health: knowledge really is power.
Breaking the endometriosis taboo
Additionally, there are promises to improve the level of education that all genders receive on reproductive and gynaecological health, in the hope to improve knowledge and start conversations. Specifically, there are hopes that girls and people with wombs will have specific knowledge of different gynaecological conditions (including endometriosis and PCOS) and that these teaching will be included in the classroom via relationships and sex education classes.
Further training for NHS staff
In order to ensure that people with endometriosis aren't met with ignorance or misinformation when they go to their GP, the Royal College of General Practitioners has partnered with Endometriosis UK to create a menstrual wellbeing toolkit for GPs and other medical professionals. This should help close any knowledge gaps and make sure that endometriosis isn't dismissed or left out of the conversation.
Less time to get treatment
The report makes the promise that "women and girls with severe endometriosis experience better care, where diagnosis time is reduced on the journey from initial GP appointment through to final diagnosis." Part of this will be obtained through updating medical guidelines on severe endometriosis, which will help establish better standards of care. When it comes to gynaecology generally, new approaches to reducing waiting times will be introduced, including greater patient flexibility when arranging follow-up outpatient appointments.
Support in workplace and education
Finally, the strategy makes recommendations around how bosses and teachers can better support individuals with endometriosis to meet their full potential, namely facing up to the issues that they face and implementing official policies.
Finally, the progress we need!