For International Women’s Day, 8 March 2023, Wandsworth GP and South West London lead for gynaecology, Dr Nicky Williams (pictured right) talks to newly-qualified colleagues Dr Naz Lindner (left) and Dr Georgie Carr. Naz and Georgie are part of a scheme, known as SPIN fellowships, which help doctors and nurses launch their careers in general practice with salaried positions and the chance to work on specific areas. All three are developing a new project to establish women’s health hubs in South West London
Why is International Women’s Day important?
Nicky: It’s a good day to reflect that women’s health is important. We make up 51% of the population, yet I think it’s true to say that, historically, the NHS was set up sometimes with men in mind. For example, many of the messages around cardiovascular health have been targeted at men but women have the same risk factors.
Naz: In addition to me being a GP I’m also passionate about women’s health. My SPIN fellowship is focussing on this area. International Women’s Day this year is about equity, which is so important in healthcare.
Georgie: International Women’s Day celebrates diversity and inclusivity, and these are both key values we want to take forward in the new service. It’s important because, to quote Dame Lesley Regan, women’s health ambassador, “If we get it right for women, everybody in society benefits.” We’re thinking about trans and non-binary people too.
Tell us what you’re doing to improve women’s health options, in practical terms
Nicky: We’re working hard in South West London to improve the way we deliver women’s health care. We’re currently developing women’s health hubs, starting with one pilot that we’re working on now.
Naz: The idea behind the hubs it that they are closer to home and easier to use for women. They will also take a more holistic approach to women’s health.
Nicky: We know that many women don’t always think about their own health. Often, they are caring for kids or elderly relatives, and they don’t seek help for problems early enough. For example, we know that being overweight is a major factor in many women’s cancers. If we can support younger women with weight management at an early stage, we can prevent illness later on.
How will the hubs operate?
Nicky: Women do engage with health services – they come for cervical screening tests, for contraception advice. If we can offer walk-in clinics at the hubs and co-locate other services such as talking therapies and social prescribing – with female staff for those who want that – we can reach many more women.
Georgie: Women need input from healthcare professionals across their lives. And our aim is to provide healthcare that’s accessible and reaches those who need it most.
What else is happening in South West London?
Nicky: We know that a large proportion of women suffer in silence when it comes to pelvic health. One in three women over 60 leaks urine regularly but we don’t see them in our clinics. Research tells us that women don’t seek help and actually stop doing the things they want as a result.
One thing we’ve done is to add pelvic health services to the GetUBetter app which is available to people across South West London. The app is something women can use for practical advice in their own homes and it includes videos in 10 languages. We’ve put posters on toilet doors across surgeries with QR codes linking to the app. We really want to get the message out that this is a common condition and help is available.
It’s not it all about gynae issues. We’re also working on the way big health problems like cardio-vascular disease and obesity affect women.
What about menopause?
Nicky: We’ve developed menopause guidelines for GPs and hospitals, which has been adopted London-wide and nationally. That sounds quite dry, but it’s important because it means we are working to ensure that all women have access to the right advice and treatment for menopause symptoms – so it’s not just down to where you live or who you see.
Naz: For those of you going through the menopause at the moment, please do yourself a favour and speak to your GP. There is so much we can do to help and support you and optimise your health for the future.
If there was one piece of health advice you’d give to women, what would that be?
Nicky: I’d say try to prioritise your own health – if you’re concerned about something, please do talk to your GP. Even though you’re busy looking after others, your health is important too.
Naz: Please be kind and look after your pelvic floor. Start when you’re young because you’ll wish you had when you’re older.
Georgie: Look after your mental health and seek help when you need it most, whether that be from friends, family, healthcare professionals or the voluntary sector. There’s always someone there to listen. And make sure you attend your screening appointments.