New report highlights how the NHS is failing women

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health has found that across the country women are missing out on the best research, diagnosis and treatment in different ways when experiencing stroke or heart attack.

A new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health shows that:

  • Despite being two of the most common conditions women experience, stroke and heart attack remain under-researched, under diagnosed and under treated in women.
  • Over 80% of people interviewed did not think there is enough awareness and educational material to alert women that heart disease is not just a ‘man’s disease’.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health has found that across the country women are missing out on the best research, diagnosis and treatment in different ways when experiencing stroke or heart attack.

Recent data published by Professor Chris Gale from the University of Leeds, funded by the British Heart Foundation, found that more than 8,200 women in England and Wales could have survived their heart attacks had they simply been given the same quality of treatment as men, according to their paper in the journal Heart. The researchers found that women in the UK had more than double the rate of death in the 30 days following their heart attack than men. The researchers suggest that this may be, in part, explained by women being less likely to receive guideline-recommended care.

The WHAPPG report found that the majority of people surveyed felt that not enough education was given to healthcare professionals or the wider public around the atypical symptoms that women may present with when suffering from a heart attack.

In our report we found that there needs to be more women involved in trials to help collect data, healthcare professionals need to receive more information and training, in particular around atypical symptoms that women may present with for heart attacks, so that women can be treated in an effective and timely manner.

Whilst women present with similar symptoms to men when experiencing a stroke we found that more research is needed in women and female-specific stroke risks, and further action was needed around prevention as well as treatment in this area.

With some simple changes, and a shift in the way that the NHS thinks about women’s health, a vast difference could be made to the life of thousands, if not millions of women, in the UK.

The APPG recommends:

1) Awareness campaign:

  • General awareness campaign focusing on symptoms and information for women regarding heart symptoms and stroke
  • Targeting of certain communities, such as BAME, which can be more difficult to reach. We need to look at further understanding of culture and other factors to take advantage of opportunities around healthcare and education.
  • Public-place targeting e.g. GP surgery leaflets, hairdressers, coffee shops
  • Aimed at women and their symptoms, and highlighting that these conditions are not ‘men’s conditions’
  • Awareness around female-specific stroke risk factors needs further work.

2) Education:

  • General public – it is important to educate the general public about the atypical symptoms that women often present with when experiencing heart attack, and the need to seek early treatment for heart attack and stroke.
  • Clinicians – it is vital to work with clinicians and educate them around the symptoms women sometimes experience, to ensure that they do not rule out heart attack or stroke too quickly.
  • There is a need to start a conversation around female-specific stroke risk factors.

3) Promote effective investigation of women’s symptoms and promote diagnostic techniques that could help in this regard.

4) More data/research - only with more research can we hope to better understand how to best treat heart attacks and stroke in women. We need much better post-acute data to be able to fully investigate women’s treatment, experiences and outcomes compared to men.

Paula Sherriff MP, Chair of the APPG on Women’s Health:

‘I was shocked by some of the stories we heard. The group has found that best practice does exist, and there are ways that women should be treated in the NHS. More needs to be done to focus on women specifically so we can bring their outcomes up to where men’s are and improve them together. We want to focus on diagnosis, treatment and research in these two areas of heart attack and stroke specifically.

The misperception that heart attack and stroke are men’s conditions is costing lives. We need to act now to ensure that everyone has the information to act, and gets the outcomes that they deserve.’

Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, said: “A stroke happens in the brain, the control centre for who we are and what we can do. Every five minutes, the condition destroys lives. This has to change.

“We know that women’s stroke risk significantly increases as they get older, and one in five women will have a stroke in their lifetime. There are also a number of factors that put women at increased risk of stroke, including pregnancy, HRT and the use of birth control pills. However, much more research is needed to help us ensure that women affected by stroke have the best possible care and support.

“People deserve the highest quality stroke treatment and care, whatever their gender. That’s why we’re working with NHS England on the National Stroke Programme to make sure that everyone affected by stroke has the support they need to rebuild their life.”

Further information

For interview requests please contact Simon Moore, University of Leeds press officer, on +44 (0)113 34 38059 and