When a recent review led by former health minister, Baroness Cumberlege, detailed how tens of thousands of women had suffered medical negligence at the hands of three avoidable health scandals, we wish the news came as a surprise.
As medical negligence solicitors, a large proportion of our clients are women, and gynaecological negligence claims are the largest contributor to all clinical negligence claims we receive here at Medical Solicitors. One of the main reasons behind this is because the female population still faces alarming levels of disparity in the medical care, treatment, and support they receive.
This isn’t out of malice or contempt, but unspoken sex and gender bias still exists in modern medicine and so, women are experiencing serious medical mistakes.
Women’s health concerns and crippling symptoms are being serially dismissed, ignored, downplayed, unrecognised, or misdiagnosed – cluelessly shrugged off as just ‘women’s problems.’ This generalised, insensitive and condescending attitude has the ability to shroud the consultation room in doubt and leave women with a sobering risk to their health.
A long history of gender bias and women’s medical negligence
The first duty of any health system is to do no harm to those in its care, yet women have been failed by the system for generations.
Our healthcare system has been devised around men since the days of Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who deemed women to be ‘mutilated males’ and inferior to their masculine counterparts. In certain respects, modern practices are still gender-blind, with medical professionals trained primarily to identify and treat symptoms in men. This one-sex view of healthcare means there is a lack of research and knowledge surrounding female biology which continues to compromise the quality of care women receive.
Historically, medicine has always seen women first and foremost as reproductive bodies, the uterus the primary perpetrator of all women’s evils. The reproductive system is a complex piece of biology and needs highly specialised medical care. It is health issues relating to the reproductive system– such as endometriosis, menstruation, childbirth or hysterectomies – in which most women’s medical negligence claims occur.
However, because historic medicine has always presumed organs and bodily functions operate the same in both sexes (which biologically is not true) women are often not taken seriously for other general health concerns, particularly if symptoms present differently. Chronic pain is more prevalent in women, often living with more severe, frequent or prolonged pain. Yet they have difficulty receiving appropriate medical care.
The Freudian hysteria narrative continues to fill knowledge gaps; we have a long history of dismissing women’s physical ailments as a by-product of a psychological affliction. Women are more likely to be given a psychosomatic diagnosis for physical conditions than men and are mislabelled as neurotic or depressed, their symptoms being all in their head.
Gynaecological scandals catalyst to NHS reform campaign
Up until the early 90s, women were excluded from clinical trials based on the belief that there was a risk to fertility. However, the Women’s Health Equality Act 1993 meant women could finally participate in medical studies and research was at last undertaken into female infertility, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
This was over a quarter of a century ago and further sweeping reforms are now needed to scrutinise the safety of drugs and medical devices. In Baroness Cumberledge’s review, it found that mesh implants, the pregnancy test drug Primodos, and the epilepsy drug sodium valproate have had detrimental effects on women’s health for over 60 years.
Women taking the drugs were not correctly informed of side effects and Primodos in particularly is suspected to have caused miscarriages, or brain damage, heart defects and shortened limbs in infants. Over 100,000 women have been given mesh implants to treat incontinence and have since had life-changing complications. This is due to NICE guidelines not being followed, including procedures not being undertaken by experienced surgeons.
But these three health scandals are certainly not the first and they may not be the last that women ultimately are subjected to
Wombs are perforated during simple procedures to insert the contraceptive coil. Infection and sepsis following surgery or delayed diagnosis can lead to the loss of or shrunken womb. Then there is the risk of uterine prolapse.
Women put their lives on the line to have children, with obstetrics care and childbirth traumas failing hundreds of women and infants every year. Black women in particular are five times more likely to die during labour. Terminations and sterilisations are unsuccessfully performed resulting in unwanted pregnancies. Ectopic pregnancies are missed causing a serious threat to life.
Some women are facing over seven years wait to be diagnosed with endometriosis. Others have delays in fertility treatment. Even women with early signs of the menopause are being ignored and medication withheld.
If you are a woman who has experienced any form of gynaecological negligence over the last three years, don’t put on a brave face and hide the pain you are feeling – we are here to help.
Our director, Caroline Moore, has been a medical solicitor for 18 years and one of her sub-specialisms is gynaecological negligence. As a woman, you can rest assured she treats all of her gynaecological negligence clients in a sensitive and sympathetic way. She and her team have helped many women fight their corner and receive justice for the medical injuries they sustained.
Accessing a Specialist Solicitor
Medical Solicitors’ director, Caroline Moore, is a qualified solicitor of over 30 years, 18 of those specialising in gynaecological negligence claims. She and her team are there to support you through the civil matters of the medical complaints process.
For more information on our gynaecological negligence claims process, visit: https://www.medical-solicitors.com/medical-negligence/gynaecology-claims/