In this article, we explore if there is any inequality in how women are treated by healthcare professionals in comparison to their male counterparts…
Even in 2022, there is often some gender disparity in terms of employment, pay and other socio-economic factors. While this is largely accepted by many, one area in which inequality should never exist is that of healthcare.
Between 2018 and 2019, the NHS paid out £2.4 billion in clinical negligence claims, and an increasing number of annual claims are made by women who say that their health was affected by a GP or hospital failing to take their health concerns seriously.
In this article, we’ll examine the claim that women are being taken less seriously than their male counterpart by doctors. Keep reading to find out more about these claims…
Hormones and Hysteria in Female Healthcare
It’s hard to believe but, before 1990, a large majority of clinical and medical tests focused almost solely on men and, although in 2017, the NHS changed its policies to show an increase in ‘listening to women’, all too often, this isn’t being heard.
One common theme when it comes to women being taken less seriously comes down to one word – hormones. In many cases, women (particularly those of menopausal or peri-menopausal age) who consult a GP with health concerns are told that it’s ‘just down to hormones’ or ‘hysteria’. Some examples of this may be complaints about weight loss or gain and frequent headaches or migraines.
New York based gynecologist, Dr. Stephanie Trentacoste McNally, says, “It’s no accident that the word ‘hysteria’ originates from the Greek word for uterus. There’s still this pervasive belief in the medical community that anytime a woman complains about her health, it’s either related to her hormones or all in her head.”
“In fact, female hysteria was once a common medical diagnosis for women, applied whenever women displayed ‘inappropriate’ emotions such as anxiety, anger and even sexual desire.”
One doctor told of a case where one of her patients, a 50-year-old female, had come to her for a second opinion after being told that her breathing issues and chest pressure were down to a combination of stress and perimenopausal symptoms. The patient was subsequently diagnosed with hypertension and early coronary heart disease.
Thankfully, the patient was then treated for these conditions which, far from trivial, may have led to extreme illness or death if left untreated. Cases like this are often those which lead to claims of clinical negligence which, in turn, have a devastating impact on NHS budgets which are already stretched to breaking point.
Misdiagnoses of Women
Many women say that they are not taken seriously when complaining of pain to their GP. One example of this is the author, Abby Norman, who was told several times that the pain she claimed to be experiencing was down to a urinary tract infection. Abby says that it was only when she took her boyfriend with her to an appointment that she was finally diagnosed with endometriosis, an extremely painful condition which occurs when endometrial tissue grows in areas other than the uterus.
Dispelling the Myths
Incredibly, many healthcare professionals excuse their failure to take female complaints seriously by stating that women have a lower pain threshold than men. This is despite the fact that this is not borne out by studies or research or, in fact, any kind of scientific fact.
Sexism in the Healthcare Sector
An extremely serious claim made by women across the globe is that of treatment by the emergency services. In 2018, a 22 year old woman in France called for an ambulance as she was experiencing severe abdominal pain. When she told the operator that the pain was so bad that she felt that she was “going to die”, she was told by the operator that, “You’ll definitely die one day, like everyone else”. After a five hour wait, the woman was taken to hospital where she died of a stroke and multiple organ failure.
While cases like this are extreme, it highlights the fact that many studies show that women are taken less seriously by A&E staff. While these claims should, of course, be taken extremely seriously, these are often countered by emergency personnel. Paramedics and A&E staff are under increasing pressure to make a fast diagnosis in order to be able to respond to as many calls as possible. In some cases, paramedics say that when they are called to a female patient who is displaying signs of stress and anxiety, that tends to be their first diagnosis.
Gender Equality in the Medical Field
While emergency services may offer their explanation, gender inequality in healthcare should never be accepted. Reports of women being told that they are, essentially, suffering from nothing more than being female are all too common.
However, this should never have become the norm and, most medical professionals agree, stating that women are often more reluctant than men to make a fuss. Women who are experiencing pain or illness should never let themselves be fobbed off by a GP or medical professional.
Those who do return to the GP or emergency room and insist on being heard including, where necessary, demanding a second opinion. While women may not like to make a fuss, healthcare is way too important to take a back seat and should always be taken incredibly seriously by all concerned.
If you feel that you have experienced gender bias or mistreatment by a medical professional which has had a negative impact on your health, your first step should be to consult a specialist solicitor who will help you to navigate your way to gaining justice.
Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained legal professional. Be sure to consult a lawyer/solicitor if you’re seeking advice on the law. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.
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