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Women’s health organisations in England awarded £1.97m to ‘bolster’ innovative schemes

The programme aims to help women return to the workplace following pregnancy, pregnancy loss or menopause

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Sixteen organisations across England will receive share of £1.97m from the UK government to support women experiencing reproductive health issues in the workplace.

The funding has been awarded to organisations to ‘bolster’ innovative schemes that are improving the health of women in the workplace.

Launched in April 2018, the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Health and Wellbeing Fund is a joint initiative run by the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and the UK Health Security Agency.

The theme of the fund for 2022 to 2025 is women’s reproductive wellbeing in the workplace and aims to retain and support women going through menopause, fertility problems, miscarriage, pregnancy loss and gynaecological conditions.

“We have already put women’s health at the top of the agenda by publishing the first ever Women’s Health Strategy for England, but there’s always more that can be done,” said Minister Helen Whately.

“The contribution that the VCSE sector makes towards improving health and care is invaluable, and improves the health of thousands of women.”

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “The VCSE sector makes a significant contribution towards improving health and care, and these projects will help deliver some of the important commitments set out in the Women’s Health Strategy for England.

“The sector brings a wealth of understanding of the impact on people’s lives, including those from disadvantaged groups, helping us provide positive support to even more women wanting to remain in and return to the workplace.”

Fund awardees

Ashiana Community Project

Ashiana Community Project will be using funding to tackle gender inequalities that women experiencing menopause transition experience in the workplace.

This will include capturing the lived experiences of women to inform, educate and advocate change, providing opportunities to offer interventions so the diverse needs of women from all cultures can be addressed, enabling timely support and challenging negative stereotypes.

Best Beginnings

Best Beginnings is a national charity that works to support all parents and caregivers throughout pregnancy and until children are five years old, with a focus on reducing inequalities.

Its project will engage with employers, women and birthing people to co-produce materials to help new parents manage their health and wellbeing at work.

Birmingham Voluntary Services Council, Salus Fatigue Foundation and Disability Resource Centre

The partnership between Birmingham Voluntary Services Council, Salus Fatigue Foundation and Disability Resource Centre will use funding to develop a service that supports women’s hormonal health in the workplace and unemployed women experiencing hormonal health issues wanting to re-join the workforce.

This is part of its aim to ensure those of working age receive timely and accessible hormonal health support that is personal to them. It will support workplaces and culture to be more accepting and supportive of women with hormonal health issues.

By developing an employer pledge, the partnership will support employers in making women feel confident in applying for employment where their health and wellbeing will be prioritised.

Brook

The sexual health and wellbeing charity Brook will be using funding to deliver tailored one-to-one support, addressing the stigma and raising awareness of the impact the menopause can have within the workplace, and providing practical support to local businesses to redevelop their policies and procedures so that they are inclusive of people experiencing the menopause.

Endometriosis UK

Endometriosis UK’s project will be to develop a national Workplace Menstrual Wellbeing scheme.

Building on the achievements of the charity’s existing Endometriosis-Friendly Employer (EFE) programme, the new scheme will provide small and medium-sized enterprises with targeted resources to support employees with a broad range of menstrual health conditions, including webinars, case studies and downloadable materials.

Fertility Network UK

Fertility Network UK aims to change the work landscape for working women experiencing fertility issues and remove the taboos around infertility.

The charity helps firms support staff on their fertility journey by working closely with organisations. This includes developing tailor-made fertility policies, and facilitating sessions with managers and staff to enhance understanding of the impact of infertility and its treatment.

The London-based national charity is focusing first on projects in the Yorkshire, Humber and North East of England.

Here

Here, a partnership health service for care, will be implementing a menopause programme in Brighton and Hove.

It will work with small and medium-sized businesses to increase understanding and support for women going through the menopause in the workplace.

Maternity Action

Maternity Action, a maternity rights charity, will use the funding to support better health and employment outcomes for working women who are pregnant, recovering from giving birth, breastfeeding or experiencing pregnancy loss.

This project will include providing information to employees, enabling access to legal support for families and providing toolkits for employers.

Mind

Mind in Greater Manchester are funding a project to improve health outcomes for women and people experiencing reproductive health issues by delivering workplace training, raising awareness of the issues and providing an improved mindfulness offer.

Sands

Sands is a UK charity that works to save babies’ lives and supports anyone affected by pregnancy loss or the death of a baby.

Its project will train managers and colleagues to support bereaved staff and colleagues by creating a compassionate workplace environment.

Suffolk Libraries

Suffolk Libraries will be using the funding to deliver a new service to support women in the county to raise awareness of the menopause and signpost advice.

The Eve Appeal

The Eve Appeal’s project, the Every Woman Promise, looks to minimise the negative impact of gynaecological health issues in the workplace by working with businesses to remove the stigma around gynaecological health and raise awareness of the support available.

The aim is to both improve the health chances for women and those with gynae organs to improve the work environment, through engagement at a management level.

The Heeley Trust

The Heeley Trust is using the funding to create a community-led approach by setting up multidisciplinary clinics, pop-up information sessions, places for people to come together to connect, learn and share advice on occupational health, peer support and community wellbeing activities.

Wellbeing of Women

Following the continuing success of the charity’s Menopause Workplace Pledge, which has been signed by more than 2,000 employers so far, Wellbeing of Women will launch a new project in 2023 to develop menopause support for businesses so that more women feel able to continue in their careers.

The charity will work with small and medium-sized businesses in parts of Bedfordshire to provide menopause awareness and training.

The Women’s Organisation

The Women’s Organisation are a developer and deliverer of training and support aimed at women in the UK.

Its proposed scheme, Workplace Wellness of Women, aims to use the government’s Women’s Health Strategy, academic research on women’s health, and small and medium-sized business employment evidence – including business productivity, health and wellbeing, and staff development – to devise and roll out a social model of health support package targeting small and medium-sized business employers in England.

Tommy’s

National charity Tommy’s works to reduce rates of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth in the UK through funding medical research to discover the causes of baby loss and aims to help women at every stage of their pregnancy journeys.

This project will be helping women through their Pregnancy and Parenting At Work training package, which will help workplaces understand and meet employees’ needs through pregnancy journeys, including miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and other complications.

Tommy’s will be developing free resources for small and medium-sized enterprises in both Manchester and Birmingham.

Sorina Mihaila is the Femtech World editor, covering technology, research and innovation in women's health. Sorina is also a contributor for the neuro-rehabilitation magazine NR Times.

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Lawyers warn of discrimination risks around lack of menstrual health support in the workplace

Employers should consider proactively supporting women in managing menstruation at work, lawyers have argued

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Employers should consider the potential discrimination risks around menstrual health in the workplace, lawyers have warned, as research shows that most women in the UK feel unsupported.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the majority of women in the UK do not feel a strong sense of support in their organisation in relation to their menstrual cycle.

Figures show women are more likely to feel supported by colleagues than by their employer or manager, with only one in 10 reporting that their organisation provides support for menstruation and menstrual health.

Annisa Khan, employment lawyer at Farrer & Co who has previously raised the alarm over the lack of practical measures to support women with their periods, told Femtech World that employers should be mindful of the legal risks related to managing menstruation.

“Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees based on sex, age, or disability,” she said.

“Employers should therefore consider the potential discrimination risks in relation to managing mensuration in the workplace and implement measures to reduce these risks.”

A lack of workplace period policies has been estimated to cost businesses over £6bn per year, as menstrual symptoms cause women to miss an average of 8.4 days per year due to lower productivity.

Khan said organisations should consider proactively supporting employees in managing menstruation at work by reviewing existing policies, including sickness absence and health and wellbeing policies, to ensure they effectively address menstrual-related concerns.

“Creating an open and supportive environment is crucial for employees to feel comfortable discussing periods at work,” she explained.

“This involves raising awareness among all staff, including senior-level managers and male colleagues, to foster an understanding of how colleagues may be affected by menstruation, the relevant policies and how to have open and empathetic conversations.

“Implementing practical measures is also essential to create a supportive environment. Practical steps can include having accessible bathroom facilities with sanitary bins, providing free period products to employees, offering additional breaks and providing a quiet space for rest.”

In line with CIPD’s findings, Khan said workplaces should also consider implementing more flexible working practices and giving women more breaks when needed.

“Employers should be open to employees adjusting their work pattern on the days they are experiencing menstruation symptoms by, for example, offering employees the opportunity to work from home.

“Additionally, they should consider the needs of employees with disabilities or those with medical conditions, and how they may be affected by managing mensuration at work.”

Heidi Watson, employment partner at Clyde & Co, said employers should ensure they avoid breaching discrimination laws when approaching issues like menstrual health.

“As awareness of menstrual issues such as endometriosis grows and as employees are more willing to discuss their symptoms at work, employers will need to consider whether employees are disabled under the legal definition and therefore entitled to protection from less favourable treatment and subject to the duty of the employer to make reasonable adjustments for them,” she told Femtech World.

“Employees may also be able to establish sex or age discrimination claims. We can expect more claims to come before the Employment Tribunal in the not too distant future, in a similar way as we have seen with cases involving menopause in recent years.

“Adopting a flexible approach to managing those with menstrual symptoms which are impacting their work, and creating an open and supportive culture around the issue, will help to reduce the risk of such claims being brought,” she added.

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OB/GYN-founded vitamin company pledges US$10m to improve women’s health research

Perelel aims to close the divide on women’s reproductive health research and improve access to nutritional support

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Alex Taylor and Victoria Thain Gioia, co-founders of Perelel

The US OB/GYN-founded vitamin company Perelel has pledged US$10m to Magee-Womens Research Institute and Good+ Foundation to fund women’s health research and address gaps in maternal healthcare.

The vitamin company said the US$10m would be distributed as both in-kind product donations and funding grants through 2027 focused on advancing women’s reproductive health.

Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest US research foundation focused exclusively on women’s health, reproductive biology and infant research and care.

Good+Foundation is a national nonprofit working to dismantle multi-generational poverty by pairing tangible goods with innovative services for under-resourced individuals.

“As the only female OB/GYN-founded women’s vitamin company, Perelel is committed to ensuring that all women have access to medically backed care,” said Victoria Thain Gioia, co-founder and co-CEO of Perelel.

“This is why we are devoted to furthering women’s research in partnership with Magee-Womens Research Institute and creating more equity in the way underserved communities receive critical prenatal micronutrients that would otherwise be inaccessible thanks to Good+Foundation.”

Research shows that medical studies have historically excluded female participants and data have been collected from males and generalised to females.

The exclusion of women of “childbearing potential” from clinical research studies has meant that women’s diseases are often missed, misdiagnosed or remain a total mystery.

Alex Taylor, co-founder and co-CEO and of Perelel, said: “We recognise how wildly complex women’s bodies are — bodies that have historically been oversimplified, objectified and shamefully under-researched in medicine.

“Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as ’12 essential nutrients.’ In founding Perelel, we hope to shine a light on how dynamic our bodies are by supporting them with targeted solutions made by the doctors and experts who know best.

“Core to what we stand for is the need to keep fighting for our fundamental rights and help close the women’s health research gap and improve body literacy.”

Perelel’s pledge comes at a time of intensified focus on women’s health as efforts start to reach new levels, including the White House, after President Joe Biden announced the first-ever initiative on Women’s Health Research in 2023.

“It is critical that there is more in-depth medical research done to support women at every hormonal life stage,” said Michael Annichine, CEO at Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation.

“Perelel has committed to a cash donation to further advance research into women’s reproductive health and to ensure that this research is made more accessible to doctors everywhere.”

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New treatment could ‘disrupt’ growth of breast cancer tumours

A new type of immunotherapy could lead to pioneering treatment for breast cancer

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A breakthrough injection could “disrupt” the growth of breast cancer tumours, paving the way for a pioneering new treatment.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with one woman diagnosed every 10 minutes. Around 55,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and 11,500 die from the disease each year.

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research have found that a new type of immunotherapy that targets non-cancer cells could help prevent the growth and spread of breast cancer tumours.

The discovery, published in The Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer, has found that an immunotherapy approach targeting a protein, called endosialin, disrupts the tumour’s blood supply and, as a result, can hinder its growth and spread.

Unlike most cancer treatments, this innovative treatment does not target cancer cells directly but attacks the cells that support the disease instead.

Researchers used a type of immunotherapy called CAR-T therapy, which involves removing a patient’s healthy immune cells and genetically modifying them to attack specific targets.

CAR-T therapies are already being used to treat some blood cancers, and scientists are trying to find ways to make them effective for other types of cancer, including breast cancer.

However, CAR-T cell therapy does not always work on tumours because their environment suppresses the immune response, and it can also be challenging to find specific features on the breast cancer cells to target.

To work around these challenges, the team directed the CAR-T cells to cells surrounding the tumour’s blood supply that make the endosialin protein, rather than actual cancer cells. In experiments in mice, scientists found that targeting endosialin successfully reduced the breast cancer’s growth and spread.

The team, based at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), also tested the treatment on lung cancer tumours in mice and saw similarly successful results, suggesting patients with other types of cancer could benefit from this new treatment too.

In addition, researchers found that the CAR-T therapy did not affect cells without endosialin, indicating this could work as a cancer-specific treatment with potentially fewer side effects for patients.

“This is the very first study that demonstrates the effectiveness of using endosialin-directed CAR-T cells to reduce breast cancer tumour growth and spread,” said Dr Frances Turrell, study co-leader and postdoctoral training fellow in the division of breast cancer research at the Institute of Cancer Research.

“Immunotherapy has had limited success in treating breast cancer but by targeting the cells that support the tumour and help it to survive, rather than the cancer cells directly, we’ve found a promising way to overcome the challenges posed by the tumour environment and develop a more effective and targeted treatment for breast cancer.

“We could not have done this project without funding to the Molecular Cell Biology group from Breast Cancer Now and we hope that further research will help translate these findings into targeted therapies for breast cancer patients.”

Dr Simon Vincent, director of research, support and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This exciting research could lead to much-needed targeted treatments for people with breast cancer, and with one person dying from breast cancer every 45 minutes in the UK, new treatments like these are urgently needed.

“Now we know that the treatment works in principle in mice, Breast Cancer Now researchers can continue to develop this immunotherapy to make it suitable for people, as well as to understand the full effect it could have and who it may benefit the most.”

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