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Women should have access to one stop health clinics

Better, coordinated services would ease pressure on GPs

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 02 December 2019

Women in the UK should have more accessible and better coordinated healthcare, claims the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

The RCOG published its Better for Women report today, which says action is needed to tackle the widespread barriers to essential healthcare services that women face.

The report recommends that “one-stop women’s health clinics” provide reproductive and sexual healthcare services – such as contraception, sexually transmitted infections (STI) testing, cervical screening, and treatment and advice about the menopause – in one location and at one time to improve services for women and make savings for the NHS.

These clinics should be available in the evenings and at the weekends to improve accessibility for girls and women, says the RCOG, and will help to address social and economic inequalities while also easing pressures on GP practices and other healthcare providers.

A survey of 3,021 women commissioned by the RCOG for the report found that women were struggling to access healthcare services locally, due to under-funding and fragmentation of sexual and reproductive healthcare services.

More than a third (37%) of women were unable to access contraception services and 60% could not access unplanned pregnancy services, including abortion care locally.

Latest figures show that abortions are at an all-time high and highlight the unmet contraceptive needs of women. In 2018, there were 200,608 abortions across England and Wales – an increase of 4% on the previous year.

More than a third (34%) of women did not attend their last smear test, the survey showed, despite the fact that the cervical screening programme can prevent up to 70% of deaths from cervical cancer.

Only half (50%) of women were able to access STI services and 56% of women were unable to seek help for menstrual health issues locally.

The report authors said women should not have to go back to their GP for a new prescription for the pill every three months, adding: “Women using the contraceptive pill are regularly required to make an appointment to renew their prescription, despite extensive research showing the extremely safe 60 year track record of the oral contraceptive.

“Indeed, half of all appointments made for contraception are for repeat prescriptions. This imposes unnecessary pressure on hard-pressed GP services and makes it difficult for women to access their contraception in a timely manner.”

The report recommends that healthcare services should make it as easy as possible for women to attend smear testing and reduce any barriers that may prevent access and also calls for:

  • easy access to contraception, abortion and fertility services
  • NHS-led women’s health strategies to focus on a preventative model of healthcare, rather than the current disease intervention service
  • all young people to be educated from an early age about women’s health
  • women’s health issues, such as the menopause, to be embedded in workplace policies.

Professor Lesley Regan, president of the RCOG, said: “It is time for a new and bold approach to transform women’s health services and we look forward to working with many key partners to bring about much needed changes across the NHS and particularly in the community.

“Many of the barriers to access to women’s healthcare services can be improved by ensuring services are joined up and more responsive to the needs of girls and women. It is important we provide a comprehensive health service for girls and women throughout their lives.

“This doesn’t need to come at a great financial cost to the NHS. In fact, we believe we can do better for less.”

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