This week marks the start of the annual Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, with Jo's Trust aiming to run campaigns to better inform the female population about this and encourage women to attend appointments for smear tests. Oh yes those dreaded two words, something we try and avoid, completly dislike and wish we didn't have go at all. Yet we should all know how important it is to make sure we attend that dreaded appointment every three years. Early detection can save lives. Really it can, it's not just a scaremongering tactic. But I know how difficult it is to get an appointment at exactly the right time of the month.
Recently I have been thinking about barriers in healthcare again, particularly womens healthcare. Since turning forty I know my body will start to change, with the promise of menopause on the horizon and not many more years until I get my first letter to attend for a mammogram. But what should I really be expecting from the next few years? Yes I am aware of the breast screening programme, but more through my job than being told this is what will happen in your mid forties onwards. As for the menopause my knowledge is limited, unless I search for information or blog posts or magazine articles about it, there is not a fixed appointment with my GP to advise me about what to expect. In amongst the national screening programmes and making sure we know the importance of early detection for cancer, we seem to have forgotten about the things that affect all women, or certainly the majority of us. Female health seems very much to still be a bit of a taboo subject. I am sure there are some of us who readily discuss changes in our bodies with friends or family but not everybody is fortunate enough or comfortable enough to discuss periods, breast changes, the menopause or fertility issues, or body changes after pregnancy and birth.
So what can we do to change this? Attitudes will need to change, but this takes time, gently feeding the need for information through blogs, magazines and newspapers. Womens health issues need to not be whispered about but openly discussed. I don't mean that we chat loudly on the bus, or in the supermarket queue, but that we have confidence to talk about our bodies and it's changes and problems. No longer avoiding a trip to the doctors if something isn't quite right. But this is where I feel there is a big barrier in us receving the healthcare we deserve and need. With many surgeries having only one or two female GP's that often work part time, it is a real battle to get an appointment with a female GP. Recently I was informed by letter that our family doctor had changed ad I was delighted we had a female GP. However she only works part time and her hours sadly don't coincide with my day off, so the delight was short lived.
Over the past few years Nurse Practioners have become an invaluable part of the surgery, offering knowledgeable advice and healthcare for so many of us. So why doesn't every surgery have a Female Health Nurse Practioner? This nurse could be available part or full time, covering more than one surgery in smaller towns or be full time in surgeries covering a larger radius or busier town. We can visit with our concerns about periods, menopause and the many other gynaecological issues we have. These nurses could also make sure we don't miss our smear tests or mammogram appointments, provide information about the risks and benefits of HRT or get us the help we need for incontinence after childbirth. Having a friendly face at our surgery that understands the issues of the female body and knows where to get us the help we need or simply reassure us that it's quite normal would be huge bonus to the service provided. Yes I know that this would cost money, something the NHS is always short of, but think how much it would save in the long term. Women could readily access this service, preventing issues progressing to a level that requires more expensive healthcare. Personally I know that I would happily make an appointment.
Until next time, take care.