Bring back the word woman on NHS website, staff urge
NHS staff have demanded that the service reinstates the word ‘woman’ on its cancer and pregnancy website pages.
Some 1,200 health service workers called for the change as at least 19 pages on female health on the website do not include the term ‘woman’ or, if it is used, it is accompanied by inclusive language.
This includes guidance pages on ovarian and uterus cancer, menopause, childbirth and heavy periods. The doctors, nurses and health practitioners have written to their bosses and four chief nursing officers about the ‘discriminatory’ change that ‘harms women’.
The guidance page on miscarriages that read ‘for most women, a miscarriage is a one- off event and they go on to have a successful pregnancy in future’ now uses the phrase ‘most people’.
Professor Sallie Baxendale, consultant neuropsychologist at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who signed the letter, said: ‘I know from 30 years of working directly with vulnerable people in the NHS just how important it is to use clear language. The erasure of the word women in NHS communications directly targeting women’s health… will erect yet another barrier to prevent the most vulnerable women in society from accessing appropriate and timely healthcare.’
The letter said: ‘Removal of sexbased language is discriminatory and could leave the NHS open to legal challenge. We call for the reinstatement of sex- based, respectful communication.
‘The NHS must use women’s words for women’s bodies and women’s health problems. NHS. UK healthcare messaging shows a lack of concern for women, is disrespectful and insults women.’
The Clinical Advisory Network on Sex and Gender – a group of clinicians calling for greater understanding of the effects of sex and gender in healthcare – wrote the letter after noticing that NHS.UK webpages had begun using terms such as ‘you’, ‘people’ or ‘person’ instead of woman or women.
Network spokesman Dr Louise Irvine said: ‘These changes have occurred by stealth over the past couple of years. NHS communications exist to promote and support the health of the UK population, of which over half are women.
‘Health communication should be easily understood. Looking at the current guidance, women may not understand that [it] is meant for them. Our guiding principal as clinicians is “first do no harm” and yet these underhanded, ideologically-driven changes, which trump evidence-based healthcare, carry real risks and impact real lives.’
The NHS said it kept its website under review, adding: ‘The word “woman” remains vital to information about women’s health.’