Dr Eddie Morris writes to the membership
Sunday 17 July 2022 was an important day for all of us involved in the delivery of women’s health in the UK. This was the day of the launch of the women’s health strategy for women’s health strategy for England which joins similar plans for action in women’s health in Wales and Scotland, already launched.
I am particularly thrilled that after nearly three years of advocacy, gentle pressure and explaining why a strategy is needed, the combined efforts of RCOG staff, councillors and two sets of RCOG officers have been recognised by the Department of Health and Social Care. There is much to do for all of us within this strategy, and I am sure that we will all need to play our part as elements of the strategy are implemented over its 10-year lifespan.
One part of the strategy that really attracts attention is the recommendation for the development of women’s health hubs, as proposed in our report ‘Better for women’, published in 2019. These hubs are intended to be where many elements of care for women are brought together in locations that are easier to access, closer to home and joined up in ways that many of us really wish existed within our area. At the moment in so many parts of the UK, commissioning and delivery of care is disjointed, resulting in it being more difficult to access and in so many women needing to be looked after in secondary care, adding to pressure across the system.
I wanted to share with you one additional reason you may not have thought about until recently for designing care around the women we look after. We are currently living in a significant cost of living crisis and we need to consider the impact financial hardship is increasingly having on our patients' health and access to care. Virtual clinics may play a part in helping patients with access, but I do feel that we do need to do our bit to ensure that every contact with our patients count and that we consider their social circumstances wherever possible. I believe we all have a duty to ensure that the financial costs to our patients of accessing care do not become barriers. Otherwise we run the risk of widening disparities in care because of deprivation rather than reducing these inequalities.
Last week we published our draft Green-top Guideline on the Care of Trans and Gender Diverse People within Obstetrics and Gynaecology for consultation. This important piece of work aims to improve the care and experiences of transgender and gender diverse individuals accessing obstetric and gynaecological services. We have heard from our Members that this guidance is needed to support our doctors to provide care to the highest possible standard for everyone that needs it and it has reached the stage of production where we need to finalise it, as we do with all our guidelines through a period of consultation. I am hugely grateful to the authors and encourage you to feed back.
There is little doubt that the changes in health care in this area have completely transformed over the past decade. I have fully supported the production of this guidance and have taken the view that it would be an irresponsible College that sat on its hands leaving its Fellows and Members without any support or guidance in this fast moving area if we didn’t act now. You may have seen the way in which this guideline was reported in some news articles: emphasising two contentious areas and presenting the guidance as a done deal. However this is far from the reality and I hope very much that once we have digested all the comments we receive that the guidance is useful to you and your teams.
I also have been asked whether the RCOG plans to replace the word ‘woman’ in our work. The RCOG mission statement includes, ‘to set standards to improve women’s health and the clinical practice of obstetrics and gynaecology in the British Isles and across the world’. As your President I am proud of the work we have all done for women’s health over the past three years and I wish to reassure you that I have no intention of changing our powerful message that women’s health is at the centre of what we do. As language evolves, we will aim to add and not take away, emphasising the importance of preserving woman-centred language as well as including language for those who do not identify as a woman. We do not believe that the guideline for the care of trans and gender diverse people within obstetrics and gynaecology impacts our ability to champion women’s health and our aim is to ensure equal access to health for all. Our recently published inclusivity statement with the Royal College of Midwives clearly states our position on this.
I also wanted to share some amazing news. You may recall that the modernisation of the MRCOG was a project I championed and led while Vice President. It was the early work on this that made the MRCOG suitable for early digital rollout during the pandemic – considerably ahead of other Royal Colleges.
The modernisation of MRCOG Part 3 has understandably taken longer but I am glad we have been able to keep this exam progressing during the pandemic. I am delighted to let you know that the Exams team have not only managed to catch up with any backlog of potential candidates, but in fact the number of slots open around the world for future exams exceeds the candidate numbers that we anticipate. This means that wherever you are in the world eligible candidates should have no major problems finding somewhere close to home to sit the exam. I would like to thank all of you for your patience over the past two years, but also to thank the Exams team for all their hard work.
Finally, I hope you are able to get and enjoy a short break over the summer. This is a time where we need to recharge ourselves, but also continue to provide service whilst our colleagues are away recharging too. Goodness only knows we have all earned it!