Shetland Times Column 01.11.19

With the Scottish Parliament having been in recess for a couple of weeks, I want to take the opportunity to highlight an important campaign that I am delighted to be supporting.

You may have read about Shaunee Jamieson’s story in the Shetland Times a few weeks ago. Shaunee is a mid-wife from Sandwick, now living in Aberdeen. She lived with chronic pain for years before being diagnosed and starting treatment for endometriosis. Shaunee has started a petition to the Scottish Government, with the help of Endometriosis UK, for menstrual wellbeing to be taught in all Scottish schools.

It is important for both boys and girls to learn how female bodies work so we can all better understand and support those with conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Those medical terms will rightly sound mystifying and scary to many. So, like Shaunee and Endometriosis UK, I want instead to encourage openness about the what is normal and not normal for those menstruating.

Unfortunately, too many are led to believe that their debilitating symptoms are just something to put up with; I was saddened to learn that Shaunee spent many school days in bed suffering from intense pain. Encouraging openness and breaking down taboos around women’s health issues so those affected know when to seek help is so important. It’s not right that it takes an average of almost eight years for an endometriosis diagnosis.

This need for greater awareness of menstrual health is part of a wider gender gap in health care, something highlighted by Caroline Criado-Perez in her important book Invisible Women, which recently won this year’s Royal Society Science Book Prize.

Criado-Perez writes, among other examples, about how women are more likely to die from heart attacks having been misdiagnosed, something the British Heart Foundation starkly warned about last month when they reported that some 8,000 women in England and Wales died between 2002 and 2013 because they didn’t receive the same standard of care as men.

This bias starts early when medical trials are most often carried out on male cells. Male and female bodies are built differently in terms muscle and fat distribution, hormone balance and the like, and that can all have an impact on whether a treatment will work.

So, I wasn’t surprised to read this week that research carried out on five major museum collections, including the Natural History museum, found that only 25% of bird and 39% of mammal “type specimens” are female. That’s important because type specimens are recorded as typical examples of a whole species.

So, while the wider gender health gap requires wholescale changes in decision-making, a good place to start is surely better teaching of the female body.

You can sign Shaunee’s petition online at the website. 

My next advice surgery will be on Monday 4 November, 12.30 to 13.30 in the Constituency Office at 171 Commercial Street. No appointment necessary.

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