Embracing equity in women’s healthcare

Today marks International Women’s Day and we’re talking about embracing equity – how we’re shaping our health services with women in mind and making healthcare accessible to women of all backgrounds.

Chief executive Julie Gillon said: “The important thing to remember about today is that it belongs to everyone, everywhere. International Women’s Day is about inclusivity, and never more has this mattered to our communities.

Gillon started her career 40 years ago as a student nurse at Sunderland Royal Hospital and has ambitions to work in the NHS from a very young age. She continued: “I was just 10 years old when I made my original application to be a nurse. I was very clear about my future, and I was part of a family that supported everyone’s ambitions. Of course I was a little premature in my early submission, but my dedication never wavered.

“This region has delivered so much, with some of the most fantastic thought leaders in the NHS for so long. Our recent visit from the Prime Minister was borne of our innovations to level up and do better for a region blighted by health inequalities. The push for parity is critical for both our patients and our staff.”

Julie Gillon

On this page, you’ll find examples of how our staff are shaping healthcare with not just women in mind.

Pelvic health physiotherapy service

Senior pelvic health physiotherapist Natasha McManus has built our pelvic health physiotherapy service from the ground up, using her experiences of healthcare and pregnancy, both professional and personal, to shape the service.

Beginning 18 months ago, the service has now secured funding to become a permanent fixture at our Trust. Breaking the myths that urine leakage and pain during sex are normal after childbirth or during menopause, the pelvic health physiotherapy service supports women with:

  • Pelvic floor dysfunction
  • Incontinence
  • Prolapse
  • Pelvic pain

Did you know that one in three women have urinary incontinence after pregnancy and 50% of women will experience a prolapse in their life? Despite the statistics, many women never talk to a doctor about the problem due to embarrassment or the belief that this is normal. But Natasha offers a friendly, experienced and judgement-free service with non-medical support and advice, including exercise classes and mental health support.

Natasha said: “These aren’t life-threatening conditions in and of themselves, but I would argue that it is. If you leak urine, you might be self-conscious, you might stop exercising, your confidence and mental health may falter. But I’m here to support you.

“I absolutely love my job and I’m very passionate about the health of women. And not many women leave my office without feeling better.”

Natasha is a mother of two herself, with her third on the way. When asked how her personal life has shaped the service, she said: “Women know that I understand – I’ve been through it. There aren’t many women who would feel comfortable talking about sex with a male healthcare professional. I can empower women to talk about everything, including sex and vaginal dryness. My office and this service is a safe, open and judgement-free space for all.”

Natasha McManus.

Cervical screening for staff

Over the last year we have launched a new special cervical screening service for staff. It’s our way of ensuring any women working here who may have challenges getting to an appointment can do so conveniently.

As we mark International Women’s Day and the theme of equity, it is an example of how our Trust is being flexible with our services to ensure all staff are equal.

Nicola Anderson, lead specialist nurse colposcopist, said: “There are various reasons why it may be difficult for women to arrange a screening appointment. We know that people have busy lives and it can be a challenge to arrange it around work commitments.

“This new initiative is about making this process much easier for our own staff and capture women who may not make an appointment. Staff can book an appointment with us during their working day, if needed, so that they don’t even need any time away.

“Any screening appointment missed is a potential opportunity missed to catch any issues early.”

Invitations for a cervical screening, which checks the health of the cervix, are offered to women from the ages of 25 to 64. But one in three women do not take up the offer of a screening in Teesside.

It is not a test for cancer, but rather a test to prevent cancer – with a small sample of cells checked for certain types of high risk human papillomavirus (HPV).

Staff can call the colposcopy hub and an appointment will be arranged from either women’s outpatients at the University Hospital of Hartlepool or main outpatients at the University Hospital of North Tees.

To contact the service, staff should ring 01429 522268.

Cervical screening team stood in corridor.

Breast screening for men

Equity and healthcare is for everyone. And that includes some services that are typically thought of as women’s healthcare – like our breast service.

Breast cancer is often thought to only affect women, but men can get it in rare cases. It grows in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples. And our breast service here at the Trust is open to all – regardless of sex.

Associate practitioner Karen Coates said: “Our symptomatic clinic is available for everyone. It has a welcoming atmosphere for all patients. Our staff are so supportive and are here to offer advice.

“We see men quite often at the breast unit. Breast cancer isn’t as common in men, but it can happen. So gentlemen… please check your chests.”

  • Touch your chest – can you feel anything unusual?
  • Look for changes – does anything look different?
  • Check any changes – get in touch with your GP if you have any concerns.

For more information about breast cancer in men, please visit the NHS website.


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