APPG Endometriosis Inquiry Should Be A Wakeup Call For The Government And NHS

Sarah Harris

This week, thousands of women across the UK finally had their voices heard as the government released the details of their enquiry into the treatment of Endometriosis. The gynaecological condition occurs when endometrial tissue, found in the lining of the womb, starts to grow in other places in the body, including, but not limited to, the ovaries, uterus, bowels and bladder.

I was 12 years old when I can first remember experiencing symptoms of Endometriosis. My earlier symptoms included heavy and painful bleeding which continued for years. Every month became a vicious cycle of being curled up in pain and missing school.

Every few months, I would go to my doctor in despair and beg them to do something and every time, I would get the same response – “women are meant to experience period pain”.

There were points I would even end up in A&E, in fear of having burst my appendix or worse. One time, as I lay on the hospital bed crying in agony, I overheard the doctors suggest to my parents that the pain was psychological.

Wales was recognised in the governments inquiry as having the worst delays in Endometriosis treatment and diagnosis

For a while, I somewhat gave up. I stopped wasting my time in waiting rooms, knowing full well I would receive the same response. Until 2016, when like clockwork I began a period, which this time lasted 6 weeks.

I was a University student in Wales at the time and ironically, Wales was recognised in the governments inquiry as having the worst delays in Endometriosis treatment and diagnosis.

By the time I finally convinced my GP to send me to hospital, things were so bad that there was little they could do on the day.

I was told to come back for an ultrasound a week after being seen in A&E in which they discovered some cysts and growths across my pelvis. After being handed a sparse leaflet that contained some basic information about Endometriosis, I was put on the pill, a gynaecologist’s answer to anything and everything, but things still weren’t improving.

My period continued for a further 5 months and the pain and bleeding were so severe that I was unable to attend lectures or maintain any sort of normal quality of life.

My family was lucky enough to be in a position where they were able to afford to go through private healthcare and that’s when I had my official diagnosis after a laparoscopic surgery. But despite the surgery meaning to provide me relief, it didn’t do so.

Instead, my insides were so tangled up that I needed to be referred to a more skilled surgeon to remove the endometriosis.

1 in 10 women in the UK suffer from this condition

That was 3 years ago and since then I’ve had several treatments in various forms, including a 7-hour excision surgery, medically induced menopause and an IUD and although I can finally say that I’m getting the treatment I need, the attitudes towards treating Endometriosis and other gynaecological conditions remain the same.

1 in 10 women in the UK suffer from this condition but it takes an average of eight years to receive a diagnosis.

Women have come forward over the course of enquiry saying it took over 30 years for them to receive the help they needed, with some even saying they were told they would never be able to have children, despite the fact that this was not true.

Historically, there has been very little understanding of the female body and even though we may be closer to understanding the anatomy, there’s still a long way to go.

In fact, until the 17th Century, medics believed that the ‘womb wanders around the body’. This, as well as female hysteria, led society to perceive menstruation and reproduction as a taboo topic.

Even as a child, periods weren’t openly discussed. The ‘period talk’ that most of us received in primary school was so limited in information that we would have been better off figuring it out for ourselves.

But there was no talk of what is and isn’t normal when we’re menstruating, so as such, many of us expect sever pain to be normal, when in fact, it’s not.

Although I’m glad that Endometriosis patients are finally getting the recognition, they deserve, the government claim that things will finally change seems empty and aimless.

The problem is more of an internalised and deep rooted issue in society than a systemic one. Yes, we are making strides in the sense that various organisations and schools now teach children that menstrual pain to some extent is not normal, but these children will not be treating the thousands of women who are currently suffering.

Period pain should not be so severe that is preventing you from going on with your normal daily routine

Previous and current medics and healthcare staff are still under the belief that women are meant to experience these symptoms and it is an inherent part of womanhood, when this is incorrect.

Period pain should not be so severe that is preventing you from going on with your normal daily routine or isn’t being resolved with painkillers such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol.

You should not be bleeding so heavily that you are doubling up on pads and having to change them every hour or so.

We need to get down to the root of the problem. We need to teach the physicians of today, that these symptoms are not normal, and women are not unable to handle period pain.

We need to teach them that the pill is not curative and by denying us access to the healthcare we need; they are further worsening our physical and mental health. The prevalence of Endometriosis, as well as other gynaecological conditions is rising and appropriate care is needed now more than ever.

This enquiry should not just be a wakeup call for the government in the UK, but across the globe, to show that women with Endometriosis are suffering and need their help.

We don’t want it to take four years to receive a diagnosis rather than eight. We want to be heard and believed the first time around rather than constantly be belittled and undermined. I have strong faith that change is yet to come. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Sarah Harris

Featured image courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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