The camera follows a man on a hospital trolley. He gurns at the audience and is wheeled away with his hand up to some unfortunate woman who is screaming. “Welcome to the NHS” he opines to the audience. We all laugh. It’s the opening of the series “This is going to hurt”. About an obs and gynae ward. We all laugh. Women. Women down there. Women and their unmentionable bits. All intrinsically funny. Apparently.
Not so funny is that during the pandemic the waiting list for gynaecological procedures grew by 60%. During the pandemic many more women who suffer extreme bleeding during their periods or bleed all the time had to go in for emergency blood transfusions because major surgeries like hysterectomies were suspended.
This is not women waiting for something cosmetic or with a few aches and pains. This is about women who cannot work, cannot care for their children or in some cases for themselves they are in so much pain or bleeding so heavily.
The average diagnosis time in the UK for the excruciating condition of endometriosis is an appalling 8 years.
My local trust, for instance, knocks you off the gynae waiting list and sends you back to your GP after a year even if your symptoms are worsening! You then have to have more unnecessary intimate examinations to prove you should have been on the waiting list in the first place.
Of course there are pressures on every single part of the NHS. However, a recent report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is adamant that gynae waiting lists are growing faster than other waiting lists and that gynae conditions are often labelled as “benign”. Babies don’t wait to be born so quite obviously the obstetric ward is ever open; gynae is often the first to close its doors when pressures become too much.
These pressures also result in more procedures being done in an outpatient setting without anaesthetic, apparently informed by some very odd ideas about women’s “high” pain thresholds. An astonishing number of procedures are offered “in clinic” without even local anaesthetic. The NHS for example routinely offers cervical polypectomy, hysteroscopy, coil fitting and other procedures without even local anaesthetic. I am barely exaggerating when I say a dentist would be drummed out of the profession for doing, without pain relief, to the gums what is routinely done by a doctor to the womb or cervix!
The most exquisite thing about Liberalism is that it is not about social class, economics or an end point. It is about human dignity. Ongoing human dignity for all. Now. There is no dignity in living with the terror of a procedure done without anaesthetic, or in living with chronic unnecessary pain or tailoring your whole life around the proximity of a toilet or a sanitary bin.
Obstetricians and gynaecologists say gynae conditions are not given the equal status they deserve. Let’s listen to them and consider the half a million women who are marking time waiting to function again as equal citizens with human dignity.
* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East