Kate Brian was appointed as the first Women’s Voices Lead at the RCOG in 2016. She is responsible for leading the College’s Women’s Network and Women’s Voices Involvement Panel to ensure women’s views and experiences are at the heart of what the College does.
Why did you become involved in the RCOG?
I have always had an interest in women’s healthcare and really wanted to do something that made a difference to women’s lives. I had tried to do that in my career as a journalist and after I went through IVF to have my own two children. I wanted to help other women who were going through fertility treatment so I started writing about it. I felt it was so important that women and their partners have comprehensive information about IVF. And this is what drew me to join the Women’s Network and Women’s Voices to make sure women have information about their options in healthcare and for clinicians to understand how they might impact on women’s lives in practical day-to-day ways.
What was it like to go through fertility treatment?
It was a very lonely and isolating experience and I think it’s one of those things that’s quite hard to understand unless you or someone you know well has actually been through it. It had such a huge impact on my life that it led me to want to make a difference for other people.
Did anyone inspire you to work within women’s healthcare?
Not long after I’d had my first IVF baby, I met Claire Lewis-Jones, Chief Executive of Fertility Network UK. By telling her own story and being so open and honest, Claire transformed the way people started to think about infertility. She was a brilliant patient advocate and really inspired me.
What are the RCOG’s Women’s Network and Women’s Voices?
The Women’s Network are lay members with personal experience of obstetrics and gynaecological services. The aim is that the Women’s Network should be involved in almost everything the College does. I think it is really important that women’s voices are represented and heard at every level of the College.
But we’re quite a small group and can’t represent everyone. So the idea behind the Women’s Voices Involvement Panel was to set up a much bigger group so we could be more representative and hear from a wider range of women. We have more than 500 women on the Panel now and it’s very much a two-way process. It’s not just about the College going to women and saying, what do you think about this, it’s also about women coming to the College and saying, this is something that is really concerning us and you ought to be aware of it.
How do you think the Women’s Network is having an impact on women’s healthcare?
The Women’s Network is making more people aware of the importance of really listening to women’s voices, and helping clinicians to understand that this can help them too. Actively listening to the things that make a difference to patients can help clinicians be better doctors, and offer better care.
What is your most memorable moment from your time as Women’s Voices Lead so far?
Being involved in Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to the RCOG in 2018 was very exciting. Myself and two other members from the Women’s Network were invited to be part of a round table discussion with The Duchess and I think that had a really positive impact. It made us feel very much part of what was happening in the College and showed the outside world how valued the Women’s Network is.
This year will see the first women's health strategy created. How important do you think this is and what impact could it have?
What is so important about having a Women’s Health Strategy is the joined up approach to women’s healthcare. One of the problems at the moment is that we often see a woman’s health in different stages of her life in isolation. We don’t always join them up and think what happens to a woman when she is 18 might be relevant to what happens when she has a baby which might also be relevant to her health in later life. If we can educate women to start to see their health in a more holistic way, to look right across their life, that could be really helpful.
What is your one wish for future improvements in women’s healthcare?
If there was one thing that we really ought to be able to change, it is around the inequalities in healthcare. Despite everything, things so much still depend on where you live and your ethnicity, background, and socio-economic position.. We have a National Health Service so we should all be getting the same kind of care and we ought to all feel that we’re on an equal footing.