28 Jun 2022

'Much needed reform' - National Women's Council calls on Government to deliver systematic change

'Much needed reform' - National Women's Council calls on Government to deliver systematic change

'Much needed reform' - National Women's Council calls on Government to deliver systematic change

The National Women's Council (NWC) has called on the Government to deliver 'much-needed' reform through the Women's Health Action Plan to ensure marginalised women receive 'timely and adequate healthcare'.

The NWC published a report yesterday titled: 'Improving the Healthcare Outcomes and Experiences of the Healthcare System for Marginalised Women'.

The report was published as part of the 'Radical Listening Exercise' commissioned by the Department of Health in May 2021 to hear the experiences of marginalised women and their interactions with the health services. 

The report builds on previous evidence which shows there are multiple groups of women in Ireland who have distinct healthcare needs and face barriers to accessing good care. The report is based on focus groups with 50 women who identified as disabled, of minority ethnicity, as a survivor of domestic abuse, or from a disadvantaged area.

NWC said that some women spoke positively about the care and support they received and found that experience of inaccessible services, dismissive attitudes of healthcare providers and a lack of cohesive supports were repeated concerns raised.

The report found that across all groups women voiced frustration at the lack of being listened to and taken seriously in healthcare interactions.

Direct experiences were the foundation of the report with direct quotes from participants.

A common issue shared by disabled women was the feeling of not being listened to or taken seriously. Many women raised different examples of how their experiences had been dismissed and highlighted how some professionals showed a lack of interest or empathy when responding to issues raised.

One woman said: "Going in my early 20s and saying to a doctor sex is painful and them saying it’s just the way you are built, nothing we can do for you."

Many women in the report experienced a lack of professional understanding of domestic abuse in relation to healthcare interactions including mixed experiences with GPs. The report described how several women in the group spoke of how GPs failed to recognise signs of coercive or abusive behaviour and women shared stories of how abusive partners successfully manipulated their local GPs into questioning their sanity or ability to cope.

Financial barriers were also raised. Women of colour and migrant women noted that cost is a 'significant barrier' to accessing care.

One woman in Direct Provision said: "If you are pregnant in Monaghan you have to go to Cavan to have a baby, if you feel something before your due date and you have to call an ambulance you’ll be told you can’t just call an ambulance - people don’t have money for taxis €50 for a taxi there and back. People are afraid to go to the hospital because they say if I go and they discharge me how do I come back? If you are discharged at 10pm you are on your own’.

Mental health was an issue featured across the four workshops, with the absence of appropriate mental health support having a 'significant impact' on women’s health and wellbeing. Previous evidence shows that investment in mental health has societal benefit.

Director of the National Women’s Council, Orla O’Connor said their report highlights the importance of listening to women and their experiences of health services.

"In their own words, women have detailed how poor experiences of healthcare erode trust in the system and in many cases, cause women to withdraw from vital care. These experiences included a lack of join-up in services and failures to take health concerns of women seriously." she added.

Ms. O'Connor said one simple example shows how the physical design of facilities in hospitals resulted in some disabled women being unable to access mammograms and cervical smear tests.

"One woman did not have a cervical smear test in over 11 years due to the trauma of a previous experience.  Women have also highlighted the positive experiences of primary healthcare and the benefits of community-based supports."

Women’s Health Coordinator, NWC, and report author, Alana Ryan said training and support packages should be given to professionals to tackle unconscious bias and create a culture of care which listens to women and recognises them as experts by experience.

"It’s why at NWC, we are calling for an enhanced unconscious bias and gender sensitivity training package which is co-designed and delivered with women, as well as greater awareness and education on how to recognise signs of domestic abuse or coercive control." she added. 

The full report can be read here.

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