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NHS gynaecology backlog reflects ‘grim’ underfunding and gender-biased neglect

Experts in England raise the alarm over the “deprioritisation” of women’s health

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The NHS gynaecology backlog reflects “grim” underfunding and gender-biased neglect, experts have said, after new figures revealed that almost 600,000 women in England are waiting for gynaecological treatment.

New data has unveiled that 33,000 women in England are waiting more than a year for gynaecological treatment.

The research, which found that no region in England meets the government’s target for cervical cancer of 80 per cent coverage, has labelled the patchy access to cervical screening and gynaecological treatment as a “postcode lottery”.

Experts and women’s health campaigners, however, said the findings only reconfirm the “deeply worrying ” inequalities women are facing.

“The statistics sadly reinforce that gynaecological health is at the back of the queue,” Athena Lamnisos, CEO of leading gynae cancer charity The Eve Appeal, told Femtech World.

“We know that cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease, but to eliminate it in the UK we need to meet targets. We need to ensure everyone has accessible information about HPV and the benefits of vaccination to enable every young person to get vaccinated when it is offered to them.

“We need to make sure that everyone with a cervix has the information and support they need to access cervical screening, and to reduce the postcode lottery around the UK.”

Kate Muir, women’s health campaigner and author of Everything You Need to Know About the Pill, said: “The gynaecology backlog reflects grim underfunding and gender-biased neglect.

“Why is it acceptable to be left to bleed heavily and incomprehensibly for a year, to have a prolapsed womb, and just accept being incontinent when action can be taken?

“Just because these conditions are largely unseen and silent does not mean we should not be shouting about them and deserve care.”

The “excruciatingly long” wait times, Muir said, reflect a lack of joined up thinking in the NHS, where women are sent for GPs to clinics to specialists and back.

“The new one-stop-shop Women’s Health Hubs could make a huge difference – if only the government would properly fund them.”

Gynaecological conditions on the elective pathway are often perceived as less urgent than their counterparts in other surgical specialties.

However, while waiting, women are left struggling with symptoms, such as extreme pain, heavy menstrual bleeding and incontinence. Long waits can also result in more complex treatment needs or emergency admission to hospital.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) estimates that nearly nine in ten (89 per cent) healthcare professionals think gynaecology waiting times are impacting patients’ quality of life.

Bridget Little, head of support services at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said screening and early intervention could save lives.

“Two women are dying every day in the UK from a cancer that is largely preventable, yet the vast disparities in access to cervical screening, and the unmet coverage targets seen across the UK, are deeply concerning.

“We have an incredible opportunity to eliminate cervical cancer in the UK within a generation, but this will only be realised with effective strategies that recognise and rectify the widespread health inequalities across the UK.”

Little said urgent measures must be implemented to ensure that everyone who is eligible has fairer access to cervical screening and that all patients who need treatment for cervical cell changes receive the right treatment at the right time.

“It is vital that the government firmly commits to tackling health inequalities, and to providing appropriately resourced NHS services,” she added.

Venkatesh Subramanian, consultant in obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive medicine at King’s College Hospital, said: “Currently, the UK has the largest gender health gap in the G20, which is deeply worrying.

“Gender inequalities in healthcare need to be aggressively challenged, with a comprehensive strategy focusing on improved allocation of resources and funding, prioritisation of research and development in the field and an end to the stigma and paternalism that enshrouds women’s healthcare.”

Dr Nitish Narvekar, fertility consultant at King’s Fertility and clinical director gynaecology at King’s College London, acknowledged the “distressing” health inequalities, but argued that the pandemic is also to blame for the long NHS waiting times.

“We know, for example, that some NHS organisations had to allocate resources based on greatest need and which may have disproportionately impacted those who are relatively ‘healthy’ but nevertheless suffer in other ways from waiting longer,” he explained.

“The NHS is responding to the challenges in different ways. For example, care is increasingly being organised and delivered sector-wide rather than just at level of individual organisations.

“However, patients will continue to be affected till all the service-delivery issues are resolved locally and nationally.”

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Labcorp launches screening test to identify preeclampsia risk sooner

The new screening tool is capable of assessing the risk of preeclampsia sooner, the test maker says

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Labcorp has launched a screening test that can assess the risk of preeclampsia before 34 weeks of pregnancy.

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can develop during pregnancy or postpartum and is a leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Roughly one in 25 pregnancies in the US is affected by preeclampsia, which poses an even greater risk for non-Hispanic black women, who experience the condition at a 60 per cent higher rate compared to white women.

In January, Labcorp announced the launch and availability of an FDA-cleared blood test for risk assessment and clinical management of severe preeclampsia during the second and third trimesters.

The first trimester test uses four early pregnancy biomarkers to provide a risk assessment with up to 90 per cent sensitivity, nearly twice the sensitivity of assessing typical maternal history or biophysical factors alone.

According to Labcorp, the test results provide risk identification earlier than traditional symptoms, such as hypertension or protein in the urine, which tend to develop around 20 weeks gestation.

Eleni Tsigas, chief executive officer of the Preeclampsia Foundation, said: “Our organisation celebrates this innovative new test offering.

“Research shows that patients and providers want access to more tools that better predict progression to preeclampsia, especially for those patients with low- to average-risk or those with first-time pregnancies for whom there is some uncertainty.”

Dr Brian Caveney, chief medical and scientific officer at Labcorp, added: “Labcorp is committed to advancing maternal and foetal health through innovative diagnostic and screening solutions.

“This new first trimester blood test is another significant milestone in our mission to improve health and improve lives. By giving healthcare providers another tool to assess preeclampsia risk in their pregnant patients with objective biomarkers, we’re helping to advance prenatal care and improve outcomes for mothers and their babies.”

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People with HIV can be sperm and egg donors

A change in law will allow people with non-transmissible HIV in the UK to donate gametes to partners

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Same-sex couples with non-transmissible HIV will now be able to donate eggs or sperm and become parents.

People with HIV will able to donate their sperm or eggs to their partners, as the law in the UK is updated.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act will be amended via a statutory instrument to allow people with non-transmissible HIV – with a viral load low enough not to pass on – to donate eggs or sperm, known as gametes, as part of fertility treatment to their partners.

Under current rules on IVF, only a male partner with HIV can give their sperm to their female partner and not to anyone else.

The law change will also eliminate extra screening costs for female same-sex couples undertaking reciprocal IVF treatment.

The government says this is part of wider work to improve access to IVF for everyone and ensure same-sex couples have the same rights as a man and woman when trying to conceive.

“These changes will allow more people to fulfil their dream of becoming parents,” said UK health minister, Maria Caulfield.

“We have changed the law to ensure equality for people living with HIV when accessing IVF, allowing them to donate their eggs and sperm.

“In addition, the change will allow female same-sex couples to access IVF with no extra screening costs, the same as heterosexual couples.”

She added: “These changes will help create a fairer system by removing barriers to accessing fertility care as we have set out in the Women’s Health Strategy.”

The changes to the law will allow people with HIV to donate their gametes to family, friends and known recipients.

The regulations include an updated definition of partner donation to enable female same-sex couples wishing to donate eggs to each other to undergo the same testing requirements as heterosexual couples.

Under current rules, female same-sex couples hoping to conceive via reciprocal IVF must first go through screening for syphilis and genetic screening, such as cystic fibrosis, which can cost over £1,000, while heterosexual couples do not need to undergo this screening.

Julia Chain, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said: “The HFEA welcomes the news that legislation regarding partner donation in relation to reciprocal IVF, and gamete donation from those who have HIV with an undetectable viral load, has now been proposed in Parliament.

“Fertility treatment is helping more people than ever to create their family, and everyone undergoing fertility treatment should be treated fairly.

“For known donation from individuals with undetectable HIV, we anticipate that the first clinics may be able to begin to offer this treatment around 3 months following a change in the law.

“We encourage any patients or donors who may be affected by these changes to visit the HFEA website to find out free and impartial information, including about how to choose a fertility clinic.”

Minister for equalities, Stuart Andrew MP, added: “Treatment for HIV has improved significantly, saving countless lives, but the stigma surrounding it persists – a stigma which often prevents people from getting tested and seeking treatment.

“These changes will help to reduce that stigma, making it clear that people with HIV can live full and happy lives. I am delighted by these changes which will enable more people to experience the joy of becoming parents.”

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Portfolia invests total of US$65m into women’s health companies

The platform has invested in 47 femtech start-ups to date

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Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia

The US venture investing platform Portfolia has announced it has invested a total of US$65m into women’s health companies and solutions.

Portfolia aims to create, educate and support the largest community of women investors in the world.

The company says it was amongst the first to recognise the “immense” potential of women’s wealth, with women’s health at the forefront.

To date, Portfolia has made investments in 112 companies with 47 of those women’s health companies being femtech and active aging specific.

Some of these include Madison Reed, Maven, Everly Health, Bone Health, Veana, Your Choice, Future Family, Willow, Hey Jane, Lighthouse Pharma, L-Nutra and JoyLux.

The total companies Portfolia has invested in are estimated to serve over 102 million customers in 115 countries worldwide.

These companies have a combined value of over US$17bn, with over US$1bn in revenue and 10,000 employees worldwide.

According to Portfolia, almost 70 per cent of these businesses are led by female CEOs, and 49 per cent are led by BIPOC individuals.

“At Portfolia, we believe in the power of activating our wealth for returns and impact,” said Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia.

“Today, women in the United States have unprecedented access to wealth – with over US$25tn of wealth in the US and almost 50 per cent of it owned by women.

“This wealth is power – power to create financial change and invest in the companies and businesses that matter to us and meet our needs/desires.”

She added: “Our commitment goes beyond traditional venture capital – we’re pioneering change, saving lives, and creating opportunities for all, while creating the most powerful community of women investors globally, and the first to activate our wealth to shape the future of healthcare.”

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