New council ‘a great start’ to improve female healthcare outcomes

Morgan Liotta

13/12/2022 2:28:46 PM

The National Women’s Health Advisory Council is expected to provide tailored care and address gender inequalities.

Female patient with female GP
A newly formed women’s health council will help to improve the health system for women and girls through targeted care.

‘A positive step forward for healthcare for women and girls.’
That is RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins, praising the recent Federal Government announcement of a National Women’s Health Advisory Council, chaired by Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney.
The Council’s key priority is to improve health inequalities for women and girls in Australia and to address ‘medical misogyny’, which will help to inform how the Government delivers on the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020–30.
Dr Higgins, who will act as a special adviser to the Council, raised concerns about inequalities with the Minister at last month’s nonpartisan Parliamentary Friends of General Practice event and is looking forward to working with the newly formed Council.
‘It is great news that the Government is listening to the RACGP and, even more importantly, acting decisively,’ she said.
‘[When] I met with Ged Kearney during the college’s recent GPs at Parliament event, we discussed a range of issues including gender inequity in Medicare rebates, which discriminate against longer consultations for complex care and mental health.
‘Examples include postnatal depression, childhood behavioural problems, and domestic violence, which are conducted largely by female GPs.’
Dr Higgins also discussed with the Minister a key advocacy priority of the college to triple the bulk billing incentive to better support vulnerable patients.
‘I was impressed with Ged’s knowledge and commitment to improving healthcare for women and girls,’ she said.
‘As President I only have two years and I want to get stuff done. This is a great start and there is so much more to do to improve healthcare outcomes for women and girls in communities across Australia.’
The Council will explore ways to reform the nation’s health system for women and girls, including by providing expert healthcare advice on reproductive options, menstruation, menopause, pain management, and medical consent.
It will also consider medical research and health outcomes for women across a range of other conditions such as heart disease, cancer, ADHD and autism, following reports of female patients with ongoing symptoms and delayed diagnoses experiencing dismissal and discrimination, with some serious long-term impacts.
Minister Kearney said that too many women are ‘falling through the cracks’ when it comes to safe, high-quality and affordable healthcare.
‘[For example], it is completely unacceptable that a young girl suffers ADHD symptoms without diagnosis for potentially years longer than a boy her age,’ she said.
‘Or a woman has her crippling pelvic pain repeatedly dismissed, only to find severe endometriosis.
‘Women and girls deserve tailored and targeted healthcare that recognises and reflects their experiences and concerns.’
Dr Higgins agrees, vowing to play a role in addressing the treatment and care of women and children as part of ongoing college advocacy to reduce inequalities in healthcare.
‘How in the year 2022, can we accept a woman with severe pelvic pain affecting her quality of life caused by endometriosis, having her symptoms repeatedly dismissed or ignored? It is not good enough and change must happen now,’ she said.
Along with the RACGP, the National Women’s Health Advisory Council will be made up of women’s health experts, medical and professional bodies and representatives from peak stakeholder and consumer organisations, including women with lived experience.
Dr Higgins is confident in the Council’s ‘enormous potential’ to be a game-changer.
‘We have a new Government, and a new opportunity to improve healthcare for half of Australia’s population,’ she said.
‘Let’s end the gaslighting and make sure that women and girls have tailored healthcare that reflects their experiences.’
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