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North East and North Cumbria NHS invests £595,000 in women's health hubs - in Sunderland, Gateshead and North Cumbria

Women in three areas will receive better health services thanks to a £595,000 investment announced by North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB) today. New health hubs in Sunderland, Gateshead and North Cumbria will enable women to get more of their health needs met at one time, with less need for appointments in different places.

This follows the announcement in March by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) of £25 million as part of the Women's Health Strategy for England. This funding aims to bring together healthcare professionals and existing services to provide integrated women’s health services in the community, with a focus on reducing inequalities in health.

This will mean easier access to care that is tailored to women's needs, including gynaecology, sexual health, menstrual problems, contraception, pelvic pain, menopause care and more.

National studies have shown that for every £1 spent on women's health hubs, there are estimated to be £5 worth of benefits to both patients and the NHS.   

Claire Riley, the ICB's executive director of corporate governance, communications and involvement and women's health lead, said: "Women live longer than men, but spend more of their lives in sickness or disability. We're rightly proud of our NHS, but the reality is that services have often been designed by men, for men.

"As a result, women often have to move from service to service, their needs are not always well understood, and many have said they feel they are not listened to. There's also variation between areas – for example in menopause care.

"Women's health needs are distinct and show a whole range of inequalities. Around 400,000 women enter the menopause every year, with around a quarter suffering severe symptoms. Falls and hip fractures affect more women, while osteoporosis and are major causes of illness and mortality.

"One in three women over 60 experience urinary incontinence, while women often get a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease later, because the symptoms are more varied than for men.

"Many of these challenges are predictable within women's lives, so we are determined to improve the care we provide and listen to women's voices.

"That means providing better services in communities and tailoring services to women's needs – so rather than visiting multiple services, a woman could get help with contraception and heavy bleeding in the same visit, or go through cervical screening at the same time as meeting other healthcare issues.

"Parts of our region have very different needs, so the hubs will be set up in different ways to reflect that."

A £250,000 investment in Gateshead will help to develop one-stop-shop services in GP practices, pharmacies, pop-up sites and community venues, with the aim of making Gateshead a centre of excellence for women's health. With an initial focus on gynaecology, sexual health and breast services, it will bring together care for several issues including menstrual health, bladder and bowel care, HRT, screening services and breast pain.

Trudie Davies, chief executive of Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This is great news for Gateshead and a fantastic opportunity to share our knowledge, skills and expertise to benefit women and girls.

“Improving women’s health is a collective ambition across Gateshead. This investment is an important step in becoming the Northern Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health. By working together, we see this women's health hub as an opportunity to bring partners together to improve access and outcomes for women and girls, using digital support wherever possible.”

A further £250,000 will be focused on two health hubs in Sunderland, with the aim of making it easier to access services, and improving women's experience and health outcomes.

A hub in Pallion Health Centre in the west of Sunderland will make it easier to access specialist menopause care – at present, women must either attend hospital or travel outside the area.

The hub arrangements will also provide expert menopause advice to GPs across Sunderland, so that women can get the care they need within their general practice. It will also offer cervical screening and coil fitting, and will train clinicians from across the city to undertake coil fittings to ensure a sustainable workforce and local access. A hub at Washington Primary Care Centre will initially offer coil services and then expand to include cervical smears and mental health support.

Dr Saira Malik is women’s health lead for the ICB in Sunderland and a GP in the city.  She said: "Women's health is so much more than just reproductive and postnatal health and for too long this has been the sole focus of commissioned services. As a region we are committed to delivering a whole life course approach to women's health, taking into account population health needs, but also the impact of health inequalities on those who are most vulnerable in society, including women from ethnic minority groups, homeless people and those living in women's shelters. 

"This investment in Sunderland will go a long way to improving and widening access to a greater range of services for all women and girls in the city. We know that women in Sunderland will live on average 24 years in poor health compared to a national average of 19 years and the menopause is a key contributing factor. Our aim is to create specialist menopause clinics in the community as well as improve awareness and training for healthcare professionals and for women themselves.  

“We will also focus on improving access to contraception for women and girls, as well as uptake of cervical cancer screening. We know, for example, that some of the most deprived parts of Sunderland have the worst access to Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) and highest rates of teenage pregnancies. They also have some of the lowest uptake of smear tests. That is why our women’s health hubs will be focused in parts of the city where we have the biggest gaps in healthy equality.”

In addition, £50,000 will be invested in services across the more rural North Cumbria, offering one-stop-shop services in a range of venues, as well as using digital consultations, video clinics and postal tests and creating a women's health website.

Professor Matt Phillips, consultant and honorary professor in genitourinary medicine at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: "These changes can make a real difference for busy women who may be juggling family, work and other commitments in their lives. North Cumbria is a large and diverse area, with areas of deprivation and health inequalities. Lack of transport can often make it difficult for people to access health services.

"That's why we will use a mix of virtual consultations and local venues to bring services together and make it easier for women to get more of the care they need in one place. That will mean easier access to services like menopause specialists, contraception advice, sexual health services and preconception care."

The changes will start during the coming year, with further improvements expected across the whole region in the future.

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