The gender bias underlying the UK healthcare system

An alarming amount of people in the UK are unaware of gender bias that exists within our national healthcare system. To help combat this and gather insight on the topic, a 2021 survey released by the Department for Health and Social Care was created. This has been informing the first Government-led Women’s Health Strategy for England.

Let’s explore what gender bias is and how it has been present in our healthcare system for centuries.

History of gender bias in healthcare

Experts have traced evidence of gender bias in the healthcare system dating as far back as the Victorian and Aristotle eras, where patriarchal constructs in society were rife. In the Victorian era, some women were found to be unfairly diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ and placed in mental asylums. This added to the ‘feminisation of madness’, creating unfair societal constructs about women and mental health.

In 1977, the FDA banned women of child-bearing potential from being involved in clinical trials. This was not revisited until 1993, meaning that the impacts on women were not addressed in crucial healthcare developments. This left the physiological differences and unique needs of women out of the equation during medical research and the development of potentially life-saving drugs.

Commons forms of women’s medical negligence

The top issues highlighted by respondents in the 2021 survey by the Department for Health and Social Care – that are set to be prioritised from now – mostly orientated around gynaecology and included:

  • Gynaecological conditions
  • Fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support
  • The menopause
  • Menstrual health
  • Mental health

Gynaecological conditions encompass functions and diseases specific to women and the reproductive system, including pregnancy, birth, abortions, and contraception. The report highlights an urgent need to adjust the widespread understanding of gynaecological conditions to address the issue of gender bias.

There have been incidences of gynaecological issues being misunderstood and mistreated, which have resulted an overhaul of dealing with women’s health in some medical institutions to avoid unnecessary harm. Remember that there is the possibility of making a claim if something similar has happened to you.

Recent examples of gendered negligence

Recent examples of gendered negligence for gynaecological conditions include the delayed diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis, which one in ten women suffer from. Symptoms for this can include painful periods that are often dismissed as ‘normal’. However, if left untreated endometriosis can result in fertility problems and extreme pain. Another example includes the development of anaemia resulting from heavy periods, which again, may not be picked up in a case of medical negligence.

The 2022 Women’s Health Strategy

To alleviate the impacts of gender bias in the UK healthcare system, the 2022 Women’s Health Strategy was created in response to the 2021 survey by the Department for Health and Social Care. A female ambassador has been appointed to help address issues such as the menopause and fertility, as well as further education for medical staff that centres around women’s health.


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