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Region’s first women’s health hub launches on International Women’s Day

Women in Sunderland will be the first to benefit from a series of new women’s health hubs, as a new service opens on International Women’s Day [Friday 8 March].

The new hub – one of three currently in development in the region – will offer a range of services including expert menopause advice, long-acting contraception fitting, health checks and cervical screening.

Based at Hylton Medical Group in Pallion, the service is supported by a £250,000 investment from North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB) and has been developed with healthcare partners across the city. The service will also include an extended access clinic at Washington Primary Care Centre, which will offer coil fitting and before expanding to include cervical smears and mental health support over the coming months.

Samantha Allen, the ICB’s chief executive, said: “This new service will make a huge difference to women’s lives in Sunderland, offering a more holistic approach tailored to women’s needs, reducing the need for multiple appointments at different locations and times, saving time and money and making it easier to access multiple services at the same time.

“Women tend to live longer than men, but overall women tend to live a greater proportion of their lives in ill health or disability. Not enough focus has been placed on women's health, but if we get health services right for women, we get it right for families. There is also an economic reason to do this, as the evidence shows that for every £1 spent in women's health, £5 is saved.

“International Women’s Day is a time to consider the many barriers that women still face in their daily lives. That makes it an ideal moment to open our region’s first women’s health hub.”

Over the coming year, the hub is expected to extend to include more specialised gynaecology clinics, pelvic and abdominal scans, and potentially life-saving cardiovascular risk assessments. The team will run outreach clinics to help people in their own communities, as well as training GPs and nurses across the city in women’s health issues. Patients can book into the clinic through their practice team, without needing to see a GP first.

Dr Ruth Thompson, a GP at Broadway Medical Practice and one of the hub’s clinical leads, said: “Women have distinctive health needs, from menstrual problems and menopause to higher rates of osteoporosis and incontinence. Many of these are a predictable part of life, so we are determined to listen to women's voices and improve the care we provide.

“We know that women in deprived communities are less likely to come forward for cervical screening or ask for HRT [Hormone Replacement Therapy], and often they live in areas where it’s hard to access contraception services or coils for heavy periods and menopause. This is the first step in providing a better service – and reaching out to women who find it harder to use services.”

Consultant Sarah Gatiss is the clinical director of obstetrics and gynaecology for South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, and leads a team at Sunderland Royal Hospital and South Tyneside District Hospital.

She said: “The launch of this hub is fantastic news for women across the city, giving them greater access to support and healthcare. While this hub will be led by our colleagues in primary care, we warmly welcome its launch as a partner.

“The primary care team will link up with those who work in gynaecology and sexual health services in hospital settings to deliver excellent quality care to women in our community.

“My team is passionate about the care we give for all women and they join me in backing this additional service to help our patients access care more efficiently.”

The new hub follows the announcement last year 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 healthcare professionals and services together to provide integrated women’s healthcare in communities, with a focus on reducing inequalities in health.

In addition, a £250,000 investment in Gateshead will help to develop one-stop-shop services for women in GP practices, pharmacies, pop-up sites and community venues, with the new services going live over the coming months. With an initial focus on gynaecology, sexual health and breast services, this will bring together care for several issues including menstrual health, bladder and bowel care, HRT, screening services and breast pain.

A further £50,000 is being invested in women’s health services across the more rural North Cumbria, to create one-stop-shop services in a range of venues, as well as using digital consultations, video clinics, postal tests and a women's health website.

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