Welsh university lecturer creates 'quality of life' tool to create 'level playing field' for women

A lecturer from the University of South Wales investigating the psychological impact of women’s reproductive problems is creating a tool to help women to identify when they need to seek help.

Dr Deborah Lancastle, who moved to South Wales in 1990 and has dedicated 20 years of her career to the cause, has told ITV Wales she's driven by the motivation of the world being 'equal' for women.

In 2000, Dr Lancastle got involved with a study about women whose lives had been impacted by gynaecological conditions while waiting for surgery.

After hearing personal accounts from women and how their reproductive health can impact their social lives and ability to work she said she was "hooked".

Dr Lancastle said: "If we want women to play a fair part and join the world and contribute equally to men, then we have to give them a level playing field and if there is something that has the potential to disrupt women's ability to contribute for several days each month, then it should be addressed.

"My PHD was all around women who were going through fertility treatment. It has a huge impact on someone's life. Most people will come off contraception and assume they will immediately get pregnant because that's what you're trained to believe when you're growing up.

"Most women I spoke to had been trying to conceive for over seven years so they had that repeated confirmation that they are not able to conceive."

Problems caused by uterine fibroids, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, heavy menstrual bleeding, premenstrual syndrome, infertility, female cancers, and the menopause can "be miserable to live with" according to research Dr Lancastle released on International Women's Day.

Dr Lancastle says it isn’t acceptable for women of reproductive age to be at any disadvantage in the workplace.

Some of these diagnoses cause pain and heavy bleeding which can affect women’s attendance and performance at work.

Some studies show that women can take up to five years to access help despite experiencing severe symptoms.

Dr Lancastle, who also runs the Masters course in clinical phycology at the University of South Wales, wants to help women by developing a 'quality of life' tool for them to identify whether they need to seek help from a doctor.

This would take the form of a ten-step app after it has been published and peer-assessed.

Dr Lancastle continued: "Anything that has an ongoing monthly impact on their well-being, has an ongoing impact on their career progression. They might be seen as less reliable, less dependable, less hardworking, so it's really important to me that these women get help quickly.

"The tool I’ve developed reliably discriminates between women on the basis of gynaecological diagnoses and heavy periods.

"In time I hope this tool becomes a widely used indicator of the disruption caused to women by period problems which alerts women and their doctors to the possibility of an underlying gynaecological condition."

Women can overcome the career implications of menstrual disruption if there is access to private toilets and showers in the workplace. Credit: Unspash

Dr Lancastle says one of the myths around women's reproductive health is that "we sit around talking about our periods".

"That's not necessarily true. So it can be difficult for some women to know what is normal. Women are very resourceful and can be quick to accommodate any difficulty.

"They might want to just get on with things. 'I'll buy some stronger tampons, and wear sanitary towels as well, I won't go to the gym on that day', they adjust their lives around their periods.

"But then it can creep up on them that it's getting worse. It's not until an event like maybe an embarrassing leakage, that they think something needs to be done about that."

Deborah's other strand of research is looking at the lack of representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minority women in research about reproductive health problems.

She said: "I'm not sure why there is a lack of representation yet. Is it the way we are approaching Black Asian and ethnic minority women which doesn't appeal to them, or maybe they don't feel their voice is being taken seriously?

"I'm hoping to take on a PHD student next year and one of the things I would hope would make a difference was that if the student could immerse themselves in different communities, and talk to women directly contribute to them as well to open the lines of communication.

"I want to tailor education for nursing students which would help to increase their cultural competence in dealing with reproductive health matters for women from Black Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds."