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Diagnoses are being delayed by ‘medical gaslighting’

Women’s health concerns continuously blamed on emotion, stress, age, hormones and even their imaginations, study finds ahead of a women's health conference this month


Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers conducted a study into women’s healthcare. Picture by Conor McCabe

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers conducted a study into women’s healthcare. Picture by Conor McCabe

Lisa Chambers

Lisa Chambers


Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers conducted a study into women’s healthcare. Picture by Conor McCabe

A new study into women’s healthcare in Ireland has found that many women feel they are not being listened to or taken seriously when they speak to their GP s and consultants about sexual and reproductive health issues.

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers, who conducted the study ahead of a women’s health conference later this month, said the “over-arching response” from 3,000 women surveyed about their experiences is that women’s health concerns are continuously blamed on emotion, stress, age, hormones, and even their imaginations.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend Ms Chambers said in some cases women were prescribed medication for mental health issues and told their physical symptoms were psychological and the result of anxiety or depression. She said the disturbing trend is “medical gaslighting at its worst” and is leading to “delayed and missed diagnosis and in some cases no treatment at all”.

One woman described how it took three years visiting her GP — where she was told her symptoms were a result of “age and hormones” — before a gynaecologist diagnosed her condition.

“Thousands of women responded and one of the main concerns they reported was a feeling that they weren’t being listened to, that they weren’t being taken seriously and that their pain was being dismissed or minimised. There is a bias that needs to be addressed,” said Ms Chambers.

“There was anger this week when women were referred to as ‘emotional’ in football, it was deemed unacceptable and rightly so. Why then do we not call out the same discrimination in healthcare? Especially when the consequences are much more serious.”

The findings come ahead of a Women’s Health conference at the Smock Alley theatre on April 28 where a number of high profile women will speak about their personal experiences. Women’s Health: Reaching for Equality speakers will include broadcaster Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin who will moderate a discussion on breastfeeding; Senator Catherine Ardagh and author and Nutritionist Rosanna Davison who will discuss issues such as fertility, pregnancy, miscarriage, IVF and surrogacy; and writer Stefanie Preissner who will address body image and eating disorders.

Former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will also speak about the future of women’s healthcare in Ireland.

“Many diagnoses are put down to this idea that ‘well that’s just part of being a woman’. We want to empower women to talk rather than suffer in silence,” added Ms Chambers.

Elsewhere the survey found that 80pc of women say they have not been able to access the health services they need, due to a lack of availability and waiting list times.

Ms Chambers said the feedback reflects concerns put forward by the Institute of Gynaecology, which complained that its department is seen as the “poor relation” of Ireland’s healthcare system. There are currently over 36,000 women waiting for a gynaecological appointment.

Meanwhile, she is working closely with Stephen Donnelly as part of a women’s health action plan. She wants to see more funding in next year’s budget which could be allocated towards publicly funded IVF treatment and free HRT treatment for all women.

Tickets for the women’s health conference are available on eventbrite.ie.

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