The Independent and Women’s Health

When The Independent newspaper first appeared in the 1980s I was one of its most avid readers. It seemed to offer something new, fresh and as its title suggested, independent. Sadly, that is all over now. The Independent is now a zombie clickbait rag, peddling predictable right-on opinions.The article that piqued my interest, is all too typical of that ‘newspaper’ and appeared on the 26th July (here).

The author, Ian Hamilton, is an associate professor (lecturer in old money) in addiction and mental health at the University of York. His article opens with the recent Department of Health public consultation on women’s health. What he neglects to tell us is that the consultation was centred only on women’s health and it could therefore tell us nothing useful about systemic bias in favour of men or women. Instead, it was an exercise in agenda-driven feminist ‘shesearch’. Despite the obvious shortcoming of this approach, Ian Hamilton goes on to claim, on the basis of this ‘consultation’ that women’s health is not taken as seriously as men’s.

In the second paragraph of the article, the author notes that women make up 51% of the population, but fails to reflect on this statistic. There are slightly more male than female births, yet in the population as a whole, men constitute 49% of the total. That grim statistic tells of a very real gender health gap, one that works in favour of women. Looking at the figure below you can see that at every age there is an excess of male deaths that peaks in the mid-twenties. A gender health gap that only seems to attract yawning indifference from social justice activists.

Ian Hamilton goes on to claim that the health service is systemically biased against women and that their health needs are not taken as seriously as those of men. The plethora of women-only screening programs suggests otherwise. He tells us that from 2024 medical students will be trained in how to assess women’s health and he goes on to say,

the idea that women’s health wouldn’t feature in medical training, or that aspiring doctors wouldn’t be coached in how to tune into women’s specific problems, is staggering

If this was true it would indeed be staggering, but it isn’t. I went to medical school in the 1970s. My year group was ~50% female. We spent several months of our clinical training at a ‘Women’s Hospital’ and at that time the general medical and surgical wards were men or women only and we spent equal time on each. There was nothing unusual in that, there was no bias against women’s health in the curriculum, if anything there was a small bias in favour of women’s health that was justified, and largely accounted for, by events around childbirth. You have to wonder, how much research into medical training did Ian Hamilton do?

Ian Hamilton states,

I’ve lost count of the number of reports that all reach the same conclusion: women’s voices aren’t heard, they aren’t listened to and as a result their health suffers needlessly. At least this is a strategy that aims to take action and not simply, albeit importantly, report the current gender bias within health and research.

This is a meaningless piece of hyperbole. He could have lost count because poor numeracy or because there were a lot of reports on women’s health. He doesn’t cite any so I wonder if it was the former. He claims there is a gender bias in health and research without any evidence. Indeed, available evidence points in the opposite direction.

So is the health service as some have suggested run for men by men? The answer is no. The workforce is 75% female. The majority of the medical and nursing staff are now female. The head of NHS England is female (Amanda Pritchard) and her words to the Times at the time of her appointment were that she was ‘delighted to represent women‘-. oddly, there was no mention of men. Similarly, the previous Chief Medical Officer was female (Sally Davies) and she published a report into the ‘Health of the 51%:Women‘ but nothing into the health of the other 49%. When Nadine Dorries was a Minister in Boris Johnson’s cabinet with responsibility for mental health and suicide prevention (remember men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide), she commissioned the report into women’s health and when asked if any men’s health strategy was planned she replied “The Department does not have a specific men’s health strategy” and “There are no current plans to launch a consultation on men’s health outcomes.”Yet again indifference to the health and welfare of 49% of the population.

Let’s look at some of the difficulties that the NHS faces and ask if these can be laid at the feet of men. One of the most pressing, is the difficulty getting appointments in primary care, something that affects men and women equally I would assume. William Collins, in his blog Illustrated Empathy Gap, has highlighted what few people are willing to acknowledge, in his post GP Meltdown? What few Will Say. He points out that the huge increase in part-time working among general practitioners is a consequence of the increased number of female GPs. Despite there being 35% more female than male GPs, women only account for 6.7% more full time equivalents (FTEs). According to William Collins the average male GP puts in 25% more working hours than the average female GP. This problem is only going to get worse. Because our education system has been rigged against boys, 85% of medical students are now female. Add to that, the greater tendency of female doctors to work part-time and proposed legislation to ensure paid leave around menopause and around preterm birth there are interesting times ahead.

William Collins observes, and I agree with him, that the old workaholic patriarchy may have been a social good. I remember working with some of these male GPs during my training and I thought they were some of the most selfless people I have ever met.

There have been recent scandals around maternity services. For example, a review of services at Telford and Shrewsbury has estimated that there may have been more than 200 unnecessary deaths among mothers and children. The Ockenden report showed that the dogmatic pursuit of natural birth, often against the wishes of the parents was an important contributor to avoidable deaths. Who was responsible for this? It wasn’t men. It was female and often feminist midwives. For a more detailed account of how feminist thought corrupted childbirth see post Shrewsbury – A feminist Scandal.

Shrewsbury and Telford was not the first such incident. Midwives of Morcambe Bay NHS Trust, the self styled ‘musketeers’ pursued natural childbirth at all costs. Midwives frowned upon asking other for advice and ‘ran their own ships in their way’ – with disastrous results. Men responsible for a similar scale calamity would have been torn apart by the press in a way that the ‘musketeers’ were not.

The Royal College of Midwives had a whole campaign around what they call ‘normal birth’ though they are now backtracking from that quite rapidly. Childbirth is inherently risky; however, midwives and obstetricians(also mostly female) have different standpoints on what constitutes risk and that leads to problems in communication between them. Midwives have struggled to work alongside obstetricians, paediatricians and anaesthetists who are all parts of the multi-professional team that women may need during their care. Again, you can’t blame men for this one.

Ian Hamilton end his little piece with the line

Let’s hope that groundswell of feedback and engagement produces the services and experience of health for women that men have taken for granted.

Since there has been no corresponding consultation with men we do not know what experience of health men have been taking for granted.

Even the comments section revealed societal misandry. When commentators pointed out that the gender health gap favoured women, men’s health problems had to be explained away as being their own fault. While behavioural traits do explain some health inequalities, that is never applied to health inequalities affecting women. It is assumed that their poor outcomes are due to structural failings in our health services. For example, being overweight and drinking puts women at greater risk of breast cancer but, quite properly, nobody is blaming women for having breast cancer. Similarly, Alzheimer’s Disease affects more women than men and is more prevalent in those who are inactive. Nobody is blaming women for being less physically active even though, according to a recent report 50% of women are inactive. Predictably, in a recent issue of The Independent, Victoria Richards is blaming men for the inactivity of women(here).

Before he publishes his next piece in The Independent, let’s hope that Ian does a little background research. The most charitable explanation for this article is that Ian works in a academic monoculture and to think differently and in a way that conflicts with feminist orthodoxy is career suicide. In the meantime, I think he deserves a place on the ‘feminist quackademics‘ page.

By femgoggles

I was abandoned by my parents in the black mountains and raised by timberwolves. On my return to the 'civilised world' with questionable table manners, I became a detached observer of human behaviour in general and gender relations in particular. This blog is the product of those observations.

2 comments

  1. I didn’t know you were a doctor, I wanted to study medicine but it wasn’t to be. I’m not too bothered as I don’t think I’d like to work in the modern healthcare system and I don’t think I had the same dedication to it as the GPs you describe.

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    1. Thanks. I didn’t have the same dedication that some the GPs I worked with had either, and so I drifted into hospital medicine. The modern healthcare system has its plusses, training is a lot better, for example, but I worry that junior doctors (male or female) are not getting a good deal.
      I certainly didn’t recognize the picture of health services painted by Ian Hamilton.

      Like

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