Government's new women's health plan includes 'baby loss certificates' and better IVF access

Women’s health ambassador Dame Lesley Regan said healthcare services were 'failing' women because NHS services were not designed to meet their day-to-day needs. Credit: PA

Doctors in England will have to undertake new training in women's health issues, as part of government plans to tackle "entrenched" gender inequality when it comes to healthcare.

Better access to IVF, contraception, and cancer screenings are all included in the government's first ever women's health strategy for England, as well as baby loss certificates for those who lose a child before 24 weeks.

Despite living an average of four years longer than men, women in England spend more of their lives experiencing poor health.

The new report comes after 84% of people who responded to a government consultation said women often feel ignored or not listened to when they seek help from the NHS.

It said that while women make up 51% of the population, “the health and care system has been designed by men, for men.”

"It is not right that 51% of our population are disadvantaged in accessing the care they need, simply because of their sex," Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said.

Women’s health ambassador, Dame Lesley Regan, said healthcare services were "failing" women because NHS services were not designed to meet their day-to-day needs.

She added women are forced "to navigate their way around multiple different health professionals and facilities trying to access basic services to maintain their health and wellbeing.

But what are the key areas the government has pledged to focus on to "right the wrongs" of the gender health gap?

Credit: Pixabay

Periods and 'hidden pain'

The government made clear in its report that issues such as menstruation, contraception and the menopause should no longer be "taboo subjects".

One of the ways they intend to tackle this is by asking schools not to segregate girls and boys for lessons about sex and relationships.

Instead, they should be taught together about women's health, including the menopause, "from an early age".

The strategy also aims to end “taboos and stigmas" which reinforce beliefs among women and healthcare professionals that "painful symptoms, in particular ‘hidden pain’ which could be a symptom of gynaecological conditions – are normal and something to be endured.”

It includes a commitment to reduce waiting times, including the time taken to get a diagnosis for endometriosis, a painful condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the bowel, ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The report pointed out that, due to the "male as default" approach of the healthcare system, "not enough is known about conditions that only affect women," like endometriosis.


Women have been promised more conversations around pain relief before gynaecological procedures, including intrauterine device (also known as the contraceptive coil) fittings.

These can be extremely painful, with women reporting undergoing coil fittings without being offered any form of pain relief.

The coil or intrauterine device is a long-lasting small tool that sits inside the uterus and prevents pregnancy. Credit: Design Science/YourSHiP

Pregnancy, 'baby loss certificates' and IVF

Pregnancy loss and infertility were other areas of focus highlighted by the government.

According to the neonatal and stillbirth charity Sands, around 14 babies die before, during or soon after birth every day in the UK.

But campaigners warn the issued is often ignored and remains taboo.

Under the new plans, parents who go through the loss of a pregnancy before 24 weeks will be issued a certificate to recognise their painful experience.

The government will also aim to end the "postcode lottery" of IVF treatment, as some NHS areas offer one cycle while others offer three.

It will also now be possible to access fertility treatment on the NHS if one half of a couple has a child from a previous relationship.

Meanwhile, female same-sex couples will no longer be required to pay for artificial insemination at a private clinic to prove their difficulty conceiving before they can access IVF on the NHS.

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The government will provide £10million in funding for breast cancer screening, which will pay for 25 mobile units in areas that have lower testing rates.

It also includes a commitment that transgender men and non-binary people with female reproductive organs should always receive invites to cervical and breast cancer screenings.


The strategy also promises to expand women’s health hubs and “one-stop clinics”, which are already up and running in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Hampshire and Hackney.

These are organised by women’s life stages, with some specifically focused on menopause help and contraception for women over the age of 40.

The training for new doctors will see trainees expected to pass assessments on the menopause and other gynaecological issues.

The strategy also pointed out women should feel supported in the workplace as they go through this stage of life, as well as issues such as miscarriage and infertility.