By Umma Miah

In the Women’s Health Strategy for England, the government has set out its commitments to improving accessibility to healthcare services for women everywhere. As part of this drive for change, listening to women has been prioritised. Ensuring that standards of care for women’s health is informed and guided by women themselves is a step in the right direction. Given that minority women experience significant health disparities as evidenced by research on NHS data, it was disappointing that the government did not adequately address this in its Women’s Health Strategy. Involvement of diverse women across their protected characteristics and intersectional experiences in informing the delivery of healthcare services is critical if there is to be any real beneficial changes for all women.

Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) has also evidenced the inequalities experienced by Muslim women when accessing healthcare services such as through its report, Invisible, Maternity Experiences of Muslim Women from Racialised Minority Communities. Our voices need to be heard in this drive for an inclusive healthcare system that reduces inequalities and recognises all women’s healthcare needs. Earlier this year, MWNUK therefore partnered with the government Cabinet Office Equality Hub and the Department of Health and organised a roundtable meeting with Muslim women so they could share solutions that could help to bridge the gap in health services so their needs are met. The meeting was held in Birmingham and twenty women attended from young women to older women who were from diverse ethnicities and very different experiences. Some women were carers and also worked with domestic abuse victims and the elderly.

Here are some key recommendations they made:

1. Equality and diversity training for healthcare professionals: should be made mandatory because some of the women have experienced unconscious bias and felt discriminated against because of their choice of clothing (i.e., wearing the hijab). Addressing ‘attitudinal issues’ and ‘listen to what the person is saying’ were considered important to bettering health outcomes for Muslim women.

2. Culturally appropriate care: to be practiced more widely, as this will promote a service that is person-centred, inclusive, and empowering for women. More importantly, cultural diversity in healthcare will help to build a better understanding of specific health related issues Muslim women experience which will lead to better communication and trust.

3. Spirituality care: while this form of care is yet to be promoted widely, it can be of added value as it encourages a holistic approach giving equal importance to the beliefs and faith of the person.

4. Continuity care: is important for people with mental health problems trying to access GP appointments. Having “one point of contact throughout day…if somebody took responsibility” this would prevent feelings of ‘desperate’ and ‘dehumanised.’

5. Cross-sector collaboration: tackling health inequalities will benefit from a multi-agency collaboration as this could reduce demands on the healthcare system. Suggested were women’s charities, digital media or local pharmacists could act as conduits in providing additional support for women to accessing health services.

6. Social prescribers: in local GP surgeries could empower people to be better informed over their own health and address barriers to engagement with certain care treatment. It can also relieve the pressure and frustration caused by the strict 10-minute appointment rules for someone who may have mental health problems, language barriers and/or more than one concern.

7. Privacy: many of the women stated there was ‘no confidentiality’ in the open spaces of GP surgeries. Being asked by reception staff the reason for wanting to see the doctor in an open space where others can hear you were found to be intrusive. There needs to be some sort of indicative health concern that does not require a person to fully divulge their medical concerns.

8. Wrap around specialist centre: availability of women centred clinics will provide collaborative services that will ensure the care is person-centred, time-sensitive, and integrated.

Overall, we hope that we can move toward a future with better and equal healthcare access and experiences across all women. However, if you are particularly struggling to manage your healthcare at the moment, it may be ideal to download the NHS app. Women are often busy managing different roles, caring for others, and in need of additional appointments and medication for issues pertaining to female health particularly, thus the NHS app may provide better accessibility for managing your healthcare if you haven’t already downloaded it. Please see this video that highlights how you can benefit from the NHS app.

If you are not happy with any health service you receive, it is important that you use the complaint service. Complaints are an important way for the NHS service to receive feedback and use the information as learning to improve services. Your complaints can also help to improve experiences of other patients.

You can find more information here on making complaints:

ThePatient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)is a free, confidential and independent service that you'll find in most hospitals. You can search more the nearest one here by typing in your post code:

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