What will the NHS do about its dire sexism problem? As BBC presenter Naga ... trends now

What will the NHS do about its dire sexism problem? As BBC presenter Naga ... trends now
What will the NHS do about its dire sexism problem? As BBC presenter Naga ... trends now

What will the NHS do about its dire sexism problem? As BBC presenter Naga ... trends now

It was more than three decades ago that doctors first told Naga Munchetty, then a teenager, that the heavy bleeding and pain she endured for nine days of every month was normal.

The BBC Breakfast presenter told a parliamentary inquiry last month that the agony of her debilitating monthly cycle was so severe she would be physically sick and lose consciousness, affecting her schooling and later her career.

The now 48-year-old told MPs: ‘I would not sleep because I would have to set an alarm every four hours to change my sanitary wear. It made relationships difficult. I had to have very understanding partners. I would worry about what I wore, particularly when I was in front of the camera, because of leaking.’

Despite seeking help, Naga said the attitude of GPs had been: ‘These are your treatment options and if they don’t work, suck it up.’

She added: ‘When women do try to speak about it they get labelled troublemakers. It’s really hard for women to win – but if the medical profession understood more, then we wouldn’t have to fight as hard and feel like such a nuisance.’

BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty, 48, told a parliamentary inquiry last month of the agony of her debilitating monthly cycle and said women are often labelled 'troublemakers' for speaking out about it

BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty, 48, told a parliamentary inquiry last month of the agony of her debilitating monthly cycle and said women are often labelled 'troublemakers' for speaking out about it

It was only last November, when Naga’s husband had to call an ambulance because of her excruciating pain, that she was finally diagnosed with adenomyosis, a poorly understood condition which causes cells from the womb lining to grow deep within the muscles of the uterus. It affects about one in ten women, mainly over 30, and doctors have no idea what causes it.

After Naga spoke at the inquiry, women – of all ages – took to social media to say they too had been failed by the medical profession: ‘dismissed’, ‘gaslit’, ‘ignored’ or told they were suffering mental illness when, ultimately, there was a physical problem causing their pain. The reason, for some of those women, is clear: an ingrained sexism exists at the heart of the medical profession.

GP gave me the brush-off and said that Ijust had ‘women’s problems’ 

Emma Nelson, 47, who lives near Brighton, was left in agony with adenomyosis

Emma Nelson, 47, who lives near Brighton, was left in agony with adenomyosis

Emma Nelson suffers from severe adenomyosis and – just like Naga Munchetty – says she was ‘brushed off’ by doctors.

The 47-year-old former dancer from East Sussex, pictured right, who works in a secondary school, describes the pain as ‘like a big bowling ball rolling around and grinding away at my pelvic bone’.

The problems began following an operation for a benign ovarian tumour last year. Emma says: ‘The heavy bleeding was almost continuous and the chronic pain affected everything. I couldn’t socialise or join family days out, and I’d just crawl through the front door after work and cry.

‘Endless amounts of phone calls to the GP resulted in useless brush-off comments, because I had “women’s problems”.

‘I was told it was hormones and it would settle down. It didn’t. It tore me apart, physically and mentally, because I had no one to talk to, no support, no way of dealing with it.’

After Emma went to A&E due to excessive bleeding and severe pain, an emergency scan showed she had adenomyosis. It had caused her womb to swell so much it took up her whole pelvis. She was offered treatment with iron tablets, the progesteron-only contraceptive pill and a coil – but nothing worked.

‘Eventually they said they didn’t know what to do,’ she says. ‘In the end, I went private and had a total hysterectomy in August. The moment I opened my eyes after surgery, the pain had gone. I got my life back.

‘But although I know I need to move forward, it is frightening knowing that the system I thought I could turn to when I needed help is not there.’

Advertisement

Doctors, too, accept that medicine can be biased against women. ‘We aren’t dealing with women’s abdominal pain all that well,’ wrote one, a psychiatrist, with some understatement.

‘This doesn’t surprise me at all,’ said another. ‘Even female doctors take women’s pain less seriously.’

The Mail on Sunday’s resident GP, Dr Ellie Cannon, asked female readers to get in contact if they, like Naga, had experienced medical sexism. She then received a torrent of emails and letters detailing devastating experiences which stretch back over the past six decades. Many are historic, but the distress they caused has lasted a lifetime.

Even today, women are still being fobbed off by doctors for a range of debilitating problems – from intense pain and bleeding to incontinence and urinary tract infections.

Keira Creedon, 17, from Cardiff, missed so much school because of her ‘incredibly heavy’ periods that she had to retake a year.

She was eventually prescribed the progestogen-only pill, which made her periods ‘ten times worse’, often bleeding for two weeks at a time, with pain so unbearable she couldn’t get out of bed. When she told her GP, he told her to ‘stick it out’.

Research by Phs Group, a hygiene product provider, shows she is not alone: heavy or painful periods are the biggest reason for classroom absence among teenage girls.

What is clear is that medical sexism remains a significant and enduring problem in the NHS.

Professor Dame Lesley Regan, the Government’s Women’s Health Ambassador, is endeavouring to change this. ‘It’s heart-breaking to hear these stories where women suffering from pain have been dismissed or even disbelieved,’ Dame Lesley told The Mail on Sunday last night. ‘We make up 51 per cent of the population, and if our pain is not being recognised, let alone treated, it is clear the system has not been working.’

Some advances have already been made. The Women’s Health Strategy, a blueprint for reducing disparities faced by women, was launched by the Government last year, and £25 million is now being distributed across England to build ‘women’s health hubs’ – one-stop shops to diagnose and treat women’s health problems. But there is a long way to go.

MP Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, which is investigating the challenges women face being diagnosed and treated for reproductive health conditions, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The stark reality is that the health concern doesn’t seem to matter. Whatever the condition is, the narrative around it is the same – women feel they’re being told to just suck it up.

‘The striking thing is that women are giving the same stories about the same experiences. Some are recent, some are historic. But it shows that nothing has changed, despite more women working in the medical profession.’

The MP for Romsey and Southampton North added: ‘When women do go to the GP, they have either an actively negative experience or a dismissive one. That is wrong and has to change.’

Several studies have shown that women experience poorer outcomes than men across many areas of their health. A study by University College London found women

read more from dailymail.....

NEXT No wonder you can't get an NHS dentist appointment! Outrage as taxpayer-funded ... trends now