England appoints ambassador to shake up women's health

By Smitha Mundasad
Health reporter

  • Published
picture of Dame Lesley Regan
Image caption,
Dame Lesley has 42 years' experience working in women's health

England's first women's health ambassador is calling for "one-stop shops" where women can sort out their health needs.

Dame Lesley Regan, also a practising doctor, wants to make it easier for women and girls to access care such as contraception and smear tests in the community.

Her new role aims to close the "gender health gap".

She will also support the upcoming government-led women's-health strategy.

One priority for the government is to improve access to hormone-replacement therapy amidst ongoing shortages across the UK.

It recently appointed a HRT Tsar, Madelaine McTernan, to help address this.

Waits for gynaecology appointments are also an issue and have risen by 60% during the pandemic - more sharply than any other specialty.

Dame Lesley told BBC News: "At the moment, we waste a lot of resource in telling girls and women that they cannot have things.

"So you might go off to your doctor or gynaecologist or heart specialist and get told, well, you cannot have a smear here, even if it is due, or you need to go somewhere else for this, that and the other.

"We should make it very, very easy for people to access this out in the community - why do you need to go to a secondary or tertiary facility for things that are very easy to provide?"

Instead, she wants health hubs where women could "go for half a day and get all these things sorted out" and then get on with their lives.

"A one-stop shop is what I want for myself and what I want for my daughters and I'm sure it is what every other girl and woman wants and what every man and boy wants for the women in their lives, to be looked after that way," Dame Lesley said.

But it would be unreasonable to expect every GP practice to become a women's health hub.

Image source, Getty Images

Dame Lesley also told BBC News more investment in the midwifery and obstetric workforce was needed.

With 42 years' experience working in women's health, she:

  • is currently professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, at Imperial College London
  • was previously president of the UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • has conducted research on recurrent miscarriages and fibroids
  • has a particular interest in period problems and the menopause

Dame Lesley says one area she would like to address is improving the representation of women in drug trials. Many trials for new medicines are based on men.

Her work may also focus on improving diagnoses for women with heart disease. Women's symptoms can sometimes be different to the ones men experience and their conditions may go unrecognised.

Minister for women's health Maria Caulfield said there was no quick fix to eradicate the gender health gap.

"Since we launched our women's health call for evidence over a year ago, we have made great progress in raising the profile of women's health," she said.

"From the formation of the UK-wide menopause taskforce and publication of our vision document, to legislating to ban hymenoplasty and virginity testing and appointing a chair of the HRT [hormone-replacement therapy] taskforce to help more menopausal women access this lifeline medication."

The aims of the women's health strategy include ensuring:

  • all women feel comfortable talking about their health and no longer face taboos
  • all women feel supported in the workplace and can reach their full potential at work
  • better representation in research trials

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.