Minister raises concerns over ‘unintentional bias’ against women in healthcare
Female patients suffer from an “unintentional bias” against them in the healthcare system, a health minister has said following a scathing report into three NHS scandals.
Nadine Dorries told MPs this is proven by the amount of time it takes for women to have their voices heard and complaints taken seriously.
The former nurse added that the number of investigations taking place into women-only issues also highlighted the bias, and said she hopes such inquiries will allow the “spotlight to be shone on them”.
Ms Dorries’ remarks came after she issued a Commons apology on behalf of the Government to thousands of patients affected by surgical mesh, the anti-epileptic drug sodium valproate, and the hormone pregnancy test Primodos.
All three scandals were investigated as part of the scathing Cumberlege Review.
It concluded that thousands of women and children had come to “avoidable harm” and their concerns were “dismissed and overlooked”, with the “system-wide problems” found “unlikely to be unique to those three areas”.
Speaking in the Commons, the SNP’s Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) said “one of the most disturbing aspects” of the report was how women were “dismissed” when reporting concerns and debilitating pain.
Ms Gibson asked Ms Dorries if she had any plans to review “male bias” across the NHS, including devolved governments.
Ms Dorries said she agreed “100%” with the issues raised, adding: “My team of officials and I, from the very first day that I arrived in the department, have been looking at a women’s agenda and looking at the way women in so many areas of healthcare, there does appear to be an unintentional bias – I’m not saying it’s intentional, I wouldn’t use the word ‘misogyny’, but there is an unintentional bias.
“It’s proven by the amount of time it takes for women to have their voices heard, for their complaints to be taken seriously.
“And, yes, addressing that is absolutely a priority.”
Ms Dorries added: “Surely it must be obvious with the amount of inquiries we’re having into women-only issues, I’d hope by us highlighting that and bringing it here, not being afraid to ask for inquiries when we see bias taking place, is kind of like shining sunlight on it.
“Only by opening up these issues, only by allowing a spotlight to be shone on them and not to be afraid of what we find can we go anywhere towards addressing this.”
Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: “Ignored, belittled, derided, gas-lit – those who have campaigned to highlight the harm caused by Primodos, sodium valproate and pelvic mesh have been called every name under the sun, but today they are one thing alone: proven right.”
Mr Norris said all three issues affected women, adding: “This is clearly no coincidence and I was glad to see the minister reference the healthcare system must do better to protect women because these cases reek of misogyny from top to bottom, and ageism and ableism as well.”
Stephanie Peacock, Labour MP for Barnsley East, said: “For too long female patients have had crippling pain dismissed as women’s problems.”
Opening her statement to the Commons, Ms Dorries said: “I would like to make an apology to those people on behalf of the health and care sector for the time the system took to listen and respond to those women, to their children and their families.”
The Mid Bedfordshire Tory MP said the Government will be “taking time to absorb” the review’s findings before it responds, and added that stories from patients have been at times “harrowing” and “frankly beyond belief”.
“What is clear, and I’m sure the whole House will concur, is that the response to these issues from those in positions of authority has not always been good enough,” she said.
“The task now is to establish a quicker and more compassionate way to address the issues of patient harm when they arise.
“We must ensure the system as a whole is vigilant in spotting safety concerns and we rapidly get to grips with the concerns identified by this report.
“We must make sure that different voices are invited to the table and we must also make sure that patients and their families have a clear pathway to get their answers and a resolution.”
Ms Dorries also told MPs: “We need to make listening a much stronger part of clinical practice and make the relationship between patients and clinicians a true and equal partnership.”