Trying to ConceiveFertilityIVFPhysical healthPCOSInclusion & DiversityTTC healthUnexplained infertilityWellbeing

The UK government published the first Women’s Health Strategy for England on 20 July 2022. It makes illuminating reading about the scale of the challenges currently faced by women and girls from a health, reproductive needs and wellbeing perspective. It also makes sobering reading that women spend a significantly greater proportion of their lives in ill health and disability compared with men.

As such, the Women’s Health Strategy aims to bring about long-term cultural and system changes to achieve a new ‘life course approach’ to healthcare for women and girls, recognising that current systems and policies often focus on just one issue at a time and were designed by men for men.

Background

Research for the Women’s Health Strategy found that many women struggled to access healthcare that met their health and reproductive needs, including gynaecology and maternity care or basic services such as contraception. Women reported that they did not feel listened to, often being told that heavy and painful periods were ‘normal’ and that they struggled for years to secure a diagnosis for painful and debilitating conditions like endometriosis. Furthermore, women frequently lacked access to high quality information so that they could, for example, access contraception that best suited them. Moreover, research highlighted the significant impact of women’s health issues on their daily lives and in the workplace due to heavy periods, as well as undergoing fertility treatment, miscarriage and menopause. It therefore came as little surprise that issues around fertility, as well as pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support was the second most selected topic to be included in the Women’s Health Strategy. There were many calls for better information and more education for young people about: fertility and infertility, pregnancy prevention, the impact of lifestyle factors and pre-existing conditions on fertility and pregnancy outcomes and maternal physical health after pregnancy. Equality of access to fertility treatment on the NHS was another big theme, along with miscarriage and pregnancy loss.

Women’s Health Strategy for England

Against this backdrop, and recognising the need to do much better to meet the health and reproductive needs of women and girls who have been underserved for too long, the UK government launched the first Women’s Health Strategy for England on 20 July 2022. Over the next ten years, it aims to deliver widespread improvement and structural changes to elevate healthcare for women and girls and close the gender health gap. Whilst this is to be welcomed it does, however, raise a number of questions and issues in practice.

What does it mean from a fertility and family building perspective?

The Women’s Health Strategy states that it will work with NHS England to address the current geographical variation (postcode lottery) in accessing fertility treatment funded by the NHS. It also aims to enable female same-sex couples to access these services in a more equitable way by removing the requirement to pay for artificial insemination to prove their fertility status and provide 6 cycles of NHS funded artificial insemination, prior to accessing IVF services. It goes on to state that it will also work to end non-clinical eligibility criteria for accessing NHS funded fertility treatment (e.g. restrictions where a patient’s partner already has a child) to improve equality of access and update Clinical Commissioning Guidance. Furthermore, it states its commitment to greater transparency about the provision of IVF services across England and that it will explore mechanisms to publish data nationally on provision and availability of IVF. Moreover, it aims to improve information and accessibility about fertility issues for women and girls by working with NHS England and the HFEA. It is welcome news that we are starting to see fertility and family building aspects being embedded into healthcare and included in the Women’s Health Strategy. However, whilst there is good detail around funding and improvements to maternity care and support for new mothers and carers, as well as miscarriage and loss and menopause, there is little detail on how improvements to fertility treatment will be achieved or funded in practice. Without clear and workable plans, this runs the risk that current restrictions and inequalities of access to fertility treatment and inadequate funding will persist causing ongoing hardship and distress for women and obstacles to family building across England. If we are to truly tackle the gender health gap and ensure that healthcare improvements are made to meet the health and reproductive needs of women, we need an effective end-to-end approach that encompasses pre-conception, fertility and family building needs as much as every other aspect of healthcare. Individual fertility is precious and fragile and there is still a great deal that needs to be done to prioritise and protect this and help women and girls navigate their fertile years and family building wishes effectively.

Specialist fertility and family law advice

Aside from better healthcare strategies to meet women’s health and reproductive needs, specialist fertility and family law advice helps effectively navigate fertility treatment and family building outcomes and place family life on firm foundations. It can create a bespoke family building legal and practical action plan to help preserve and maximise individual fertility, make informed decisions about conception, family creation and biological identity, as well as secure and protect legal rights for fertility patients, parents, children and families.

The value of an experienced and specialist fertility and family lawyer also extends beyond technical legal guidance and representation and helps individuals:

  • Achieve peace of mind about their or a loved-one’s personal and family situation.
  • Become empowered to make changes and take meaningful steps forward to create, restructure or protect a much-wanted family.
  • Identify, assess and minimise unwanted personal and family risks and pitfalls.
  • Create viable action plans to help balance work, personal and family life.
If you would like to discuss your situation or you require specialist fertility and family law advice and assistance you may contact me through my bloss profile.
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