Putting gender on the NHS agenda is now a priority for the government according to health minister Rosie Winterton who spoke at a conference organised by the Men's Health Forum earlier this week.
'We are committed to outlawing discrimination and to promoting equality, both of employment and in the delivery of services,' she said, adding that gender sensitive health services were vital if the NHS was to improve the health of the population.
"There's only one way we can do that --- it is if our health services are available for everybody. If we can't have that we will have inequality in health. The gender equality duty provides us with the chance to make services more specific to the individual."
But there was concern by delegates at the event, held in London on Monday 6 November, that the duty could become yet another tick box exercise - and that without earmarked resources it just wasn't going to happen.
The conference was attended by more than 200 delegates, from equality officers through to primary care trust managers, from senior civil servants at the Department of Health through to academics researching men's and women's health issues.
It was supported by the Department of Health, the Equal Opportunities Commission, NHS Employers, the Essex Primary Care Research Network and The Women and Equality Unit of the Department for Communities and Local Government. It was one of the first national events to look at how one public body will need to respond to the Equality Act when it becomes law in April 2007.
Ms Winterton accepted that a shift in mindset wasn't going to be easy, but it needed to be built in from the outset when planning health policies. 'You need to make sure you are looking at them from a gender point of view - it's about getting people to think about it right from the word go. That is quite a challenge.'
Health care staff needed data on which to base their decisions, she said. They also needed to understand the different ways in which people accessed health care. 'If we are going to achieve this we need a radical cultural shift across the health service,' she said.
But in the question session after her speech, delegates spoke of the difficulties they had in persuading managers to take equality issues, such as race and gender, seriously. They also spoke of existing projects, particularly in the field on men's health, that were in funding jeopardy. She finally turned the event round to listen to their views and take back a shopping list of 'to do's' for the Department.
'People say resources are scarce,' she said in response to the criticisms, 'but [the reason why it isn't happening] must be deeper than that. There must be some reason why people don't feel empowered to do it. Maybe they don't know how.'
She acknowledged one approach was the 'big stick' but asked: 'Isn't there enough guidance out there?'
Delegates also heard from Professor Lord Patel of Bradford, a patron of the Forum, of the importance of tackling men's health issues, particularly the high suicide rate among young men. And Professor Alan White, the Forum's chair and professor of men's health at Leeds Metropolitan University, about how gender was about a 'lot more than just men's dangly bits'.
A strong warning about the need for the duty to make a real difference came from Surinder Sharma, the National Director for Equality and Human Rights at the Department of Health. He has been monitoring progress on the implementation of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2001. (see separate story: Equality director warns of lack of leadership targets for gender duty).
Page created on November 9th, 2006
Page updated on December 1st, 2009