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  • Writer's pictureSusan Valproate Victims

It's different for girls

Woman’s Hour hosted a discussion with the new Patient Safety Commissioner Dr Henrietta Hughes. Henrietta explained how the valproate/Primodos/Mesh topics are taking up much of her time and the common themes around them are very similar.

We were lucky that the Medicines Act 2021 was progressing alongside the IMMDS Review. At the time we complained that it actually hindered its progress as whenever the publication of the Act became delayed, so did the publication of the IMMDS Review. But it did give us an opportunity to push forward an amendment (along with other groups) that would provide for the establishment of a Patient Safety Commissioner meaning that the role was enacted in law.

Health journalist Sarah Graham was also in the discussion presenting her new book, Rebel Bodies: A guide to the gender health gap revolution. She discusses the way that women are expected to take full responsibility for their reproductive healthcare with little support from the system. Like me, she blames the deeply ingrained sexist attitudes that may take some time to shift. There’s a lack of knowledge, research and understanding of women’s issues. She also offers advice on how women can be heard more at the doctor’s, and suggests that women should bring a man with them when in a consultation with a doctor. She also expressed dismay at Nadine Dorries’s response to women’s healthcare that women shouldn’t take no for an answer, as it’s putting the onus on us.

In 1975 only 9% of consultants were female, in 2013 that number was still only 32%. I presume things have moved forward, but changes only started happening in 1975 with the Sex Discrimination Act. Despite having relatively few female role models, it was largely women pioneers that pushed the agenda in the case of valproate, and made changes. Valproate, Primodos and Mesh are just three examples of Epic Medical Failures that were largely a result of gender inequality. Our society is still based in patriarchy and exclusivity and our healthcare model is still medical rather than social. Despite this knowledge, it has been left to women to fight for change through incredible challenges. The more successful campaigners, doctors, scientists, researchers and lawyers were frequently women. It was when a woman took over at MHRA that changes were made to the valproate patient information. It was Baroness Cumberlege who led the maternity review and the IMMDS Review.

So it was refreshing to hear this conversation between women who understand the issues and their enormous complexities and that discussions are now moving forward, and reassuring to know that we finally have a woman at the heart of health policy.

For light relief, here’s a comedy sketch

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