Pin It
Photography Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, via Unsplash

UK women are facing ‘longer than ever’ waits for gynaecology services

Waiting lists have increased by more than 60 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has published a report that women are now waiting “longer than ever” for gynaecology services across the UK, with waiting lists increasing by more than 60 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The report, which confirms the horrifying extent of the gender health gap, cites that women are “consistently deprioritised and overlooked”. New data indicates that gynaecology waiting lists have seen the biggest increase of all medical specialties, growing to a combined figure of more than 570,000 women. The number of women waiting more than a year for care in England alone has increased from 66 before the pandemic to nearly 25,000.

According to a survey of 837 women, 80 per cent said their mental health has worsened due to the wait, while more than 75 per cent of respondents reported that their symptoms worsened. Members of the RCOG said they were seeing increasing numbers of people with more advanced endometriosis as a result of the longer waiting times, both for initial appointments and for treatment.

It’s also reported that heavy menstrual bleeding has “gone unmanaged” for longer due to the increased waiting time and has resulted in “unusually high rates of anaemia”. The wait is so severe that the RCOG said some women have even been admitted to hospital as emergency admissions requiring iron or blood transfusions. “The NHS is in dire straits, gynaecology is in even direr straits, and urogynaecology is in the worst state of them all,” says the report.

The report tells us what you’d expect: women don’t feel heard within the healthcare system. It is extremely concerning that half a million women in the UK are waiting for a gynaecology appointment,“ Janet Lindsay, CEO of Wellbeing of Women, tells Dazed. “In England, waiting times have shot up by as much as 60 per cent during the pandemic – the largest increase of all medical specialities. This shows, once again, that women’s health is not prioritised and gynaecological conditions are not considered as serious or important.”

“Sadly, these long waiting times means that women will continue to suffer from debilitating symptoms, such as very painful periods and heavy bleeding for conditions such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS),” she adds.

The prolonged waits will often make these illnesses much worse. “Common conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids are often progressive, getting worse over time resulting in unnecessary acute admissions to hospital or more complex surgery than had they been operated on promptly,” explains Dr Martin Hirsch, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“We are letting women and people with these conditions down, and change is desperately needed. We are asking the NHS to rethink the way care is prioritised” – Dr Martin Hirsch

Additionally, more than 77 per cent of women said their ability to work or take part in social activities had been negatively impacted. Around two-thirds said they felt “despair” at the long waits, and 63 per cent reported feeling “ignored”. “Without prompt diagnosis and treatment, these conditions will significantly impact women’s lives which can lead to low mood, anxiety and depression. There will also be implications for their health, wellbeing and possibly their fertility,” agrees Lindsay. 

The report is one of many medical challenges facing women, as the government axes contraceptive spending by a fifth. Last month, it was reported that NHS wait times are at an all-time high for contraceptive services, with women reporting to wait months to be booked in for a 30-minute appointment to have their coil fitted.

“We are letting women and people with these conditions down, and change is desperately needed. We are asking the NHS to rethink the way care is prioritised, and to consider the wider impacts on the individuals waiting for care. We hope that as the NHS recovers, action will be taken to make sure gynaecology is given the attention it so desperately needs, and meet the needs of women on these waiting lists,“ adds Hirsch. “We are also calling for the elective recovery of the NHS to address the unequal growth of gynaecological waiting lists compared to other specialties, including the use of private sector capacity and surgical hubs.“