Jenny Priest is the Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the RCOG. As part of the 2023 RCOG World Congress, Jenny is sharing with our Fellows and Members some of the recent wins for women from the College.
As part of the RCOG’s mission to improve the health of women and girls in the UK and around the world, we work hard to influence government policy and the political debate around women’s health. Much of this work sits with the Policy and Public Affairs team, and we wanted to take a moment during Congress week to tell you more about the work we do, some of our recent wins for women, and our ambitions for the future.
On behalf of the membership and the broader profession, we work with policymakers in governments across the UK and with NHS leaders to call for improvements in women’s health and care. We also work closely with Parliamentarians to keep women’s health at the top of the political agenda, to call for legislative change and to hold governments to account over their commitments to improve women’s health.
To understand where we should focus our work, and how we can have the biggest impact, we review evidence, talk to our Fellows and Members, and other organisations working to improve women’s health, and hear directly from women about their experiences. This means we can develop evidence-based positions and recommendations that we know will make a real difference to women and to the O&G profession.
In 2019 the College published ‘Better for Women’, which strongly advocated for a life-course approach to women’s health and for dedicated strategies for women’s health across the UK. Since then, we have seen women’s health plans and strategies launched in Scotland, England and Wales - a huge step forward for women’s health and something for the College to feel very proud of - and we continue to push for a nationwide strategy in Northern Ireland. We are working closely with government health departments to make sure the strategies are properly implemented, and our recent work has focused on influencing the design and delivery of the women’s health hub model in England so it successfully joins up women’s health services and makes it easier for women to get the support they need.
Another of our major priorities is improving abortion care in the UK. Since the beginning of last year, the RCOG has played a pivotal role in campaigns to secure the permanent provision of telemedicine for early medical abortion and the creation of safe access zones around abortion services, making it easier and safer for women to access the care they need. However, women are still being prosecuted and imprisoned in the UK for procuring an abortion outside regulated settings. As a core part of women’s healthcare – a third of women in the UK will have an abortion – we do not believe that abortion should fall under criminal law and so we are working with a coalition of organisations to campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion.
We also have a strong focus on improving gynaecology care in the UK. Since the publication of ‘Left for too Long’ in April 2022, we have continued to work closely with the RCOG President to make the case for action to address the unequal growth in gynaecology waiting lists across the UK. We have built close links with NHS leaders responsible for elective recovery, and will be working with them to redesign gynaecology outpatient services as part of their wider programme of outpatient transformation. To recover surgical capacity in gynaecology, we are also calling for a move away from the surgical prioritisation of care framework that we know is no longer fit for purpose in a post-pandemic NHS.
Addressing persistent disparities is an essential part of improving women’s healthcare, and as a team we adopt an ‘inequalities in all policies’ approach, to ensure that we always consider the needs of women who are most likely to be forgotten, or have their needs left unmet. We continue to be a key voice on racial inequalities in women’s health, sitting on high-profile groups and taskforces, and in recent years have published work and lobbied parliamentarians on improving care for migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee women, women in prison, addressing racial disparities in women’s health and tackling the unequal impacts of air pollution. Attention to the unequal impacts of air pollution has been a key part of our policy and influencing work related to climate change and sustainability, alongside ensuring the health of women and girls is represented in UK Health Alliance on Climate Change advocacy work.
We also work to improve the health of women around the globe. We are currently campaigning for an increase in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) funding as part of the UK’s overseas aid budget, and for aid to be returned to pre-pandemic levels given the devastating impact of cuts on women and girls. We have brought other Royal Colleges and professional bodies together into a coalition which is leading calls for increased aid and a stronger focus on global gynaecological health. In July we will launch a comprehensive report highlighting the impact of aid cuts on SRHR and recommending steps the UK Government can take to re-establish itself as an SRHR superpower.
This is just a taster of our work – we don’t have time to tell you about everything we do - but we hope it’s given you an idea of the breadth of the College’s policy and public affairs work and shown how much we contribute to the RCOG’s mission of improving the health of women and girls in the UK and around the world.
If you’d like to get involved in our campaigning and influencing work, or want to know more about any of our priorities, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us at (email@example.com).