As part of a comprehensive government review of female health and wellbeing, menopausal women could get new employment protections.
Officials are understood to be particularly interested in health issues affecting participation in the workplace by middle-aged women, including depression and anxiety, musculoskeletal conditions, and the menopause. Ministers are appealing for women from all backgrounds to complete a questionnaire on how NHS services and office practices could be improved to meet their needs.
The review will be shaped by six themes, including improving access to health information and education, ensuring services are responsive to women’s needs across their lives, maximising women’s health in the workplace and “placing women’s voices at the centre of their health and care”.
Minister for women’s health, Nadine Dorries, said: “It’s crucial women’s voices are at the front and centre of this strategy so we understand their experiences and how to improve their outcomes. I urge every woman, and anyone who cares for women, to feed into this call for evidence and help shape the future of women’s health.”
The project has been partially prompted by a growing understanding that much of the evidence behind medical advances is biased towards men, meaning that changes in clinical practice benefit women less. Although in the UK female life expectancy is higher than men’s, women spend fewer years in good health on average.
The review on the workplace will take into account reproductive-related issues for women, such as menopause, maternity, heavy menstrual bleeding, and endometriosis, but will also focus on conditions that women are more likely to suffer from but which are not sex-specific. The Department of Health and Social Care said there was evidence that the impact of female-specific health conditions was being “overlooked” and said less was known about women-only conditions where there is “little treatment”. For example, the average time for a diagnosis of endometriosis is seven to eight years, with 40 per cent of women needing at least 10 GP appointments before being referred to a specialist.
Reports into the disgraced surgeon Ian Patterson, who subjected more than 1,000 patients to unnecessary and damaging operations, and the scandal of surgical mesh implants found that women’s voices had been ignored. The equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said: “Women know best when it comes to their health, and every woman should feel heard and respected when it comes to their health.”
The consultation is open for 10 weeks and it is understood that ministers will consider making changes to employment law based on the results.