How the pandemic made a bad situation even worse

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The Covid-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate and devastating impact on women’s health, according to a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The report found that more than half a million women in the UK have been forced to wait for ‘non-emergency’ gynecological care. Waiting lists across the country are now 60% longer than pre-pandemic levels. This means that one in 20 women will now wait more than a year to receive gynecological surgery, specialist treatments and even diagnoses.

Some of the people hardest hit by these delays are women with endometriosis, a chronic inflammatory disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body – in places such as the ovaries or the fallopian tubes. It is estimated that one in ten women suffer from this disease, many of whom live with excruciating pain.

If left untreated or mismanaged, the condition can get worse. This can make treatment much more difficult and have a lasting impact on a woman’s health, such as fertility issues or worsening pain.

According to the report, the pandemic has made it difficult for women with endometriosis to manage their condition and access the kind of specialized treatment they need. For example, many women with pain caused by endometriosis had to go to A&E for care because specialist care was not available. And after that, many were referred to gynecology services, which meant waiting up to five months for an appointment.

For others, delays in care – such as having surgery to manage the disease – meant not only that their pain was getting worse, but that the disease was also progressing. It can have a serious effect on many aspects of a woman’s life, including her mental health and her fertility. Some will also need more complex and invasive surgeries to manage their condition accordingly.

Unable to get the care they needed to effectively manage their pain, many women felt isolated and unable to lead normal lives. Poor mental health was already a problem for women with endometriosis even before the pandemic. But more than 80% of women surveyed for the report said their mental health had deteriorated during the pandemic, largely because of their pain but, not uncommonly, also because they felt dismissed.

Looking forward

Gynecology departments are one of the surgical specialties most affected by Covid-19 backlogs. This is partly explained by the fact that at the start of the pandemic, about half of gynecology consultants were redeployed to obstetric care services.

Even if things slowly return to where they were before the pandemic, it is unlikely that the backlog of gynecology services will decrease until 2025. Given that women with endometriosis are already waiting an average of eight years for the correct diagnosis, it could make it even more difficult for these women to access care in the future.

This is why it will be important to start prioritizing gynecological services and treating them with the same level of urgency as other services, such as cancer or rheumatology services. To begin with, it is important to raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms and to educate women about the disease and how to describe it. Combined with community services, such as your GP, this will ensure that women can still get help even while they are waiting for specialist care.

It will take time for wait times for gynecological services to return to normal. But if you’re one of the many women with endometriosis waiting for treatment or diagnosis, there are some things you can do to prepare for your next appointment.

For example, tracking and recording your symptoms can be helpful when visiting a GP so you can illustrate what kind of pain you are having and how often. This can make it easier to communicate your pain, so your GP can better understand your symptoms and how best to treat them while you wait for specialist care.

If you or someone you know is struggling to manage the condition, Endometriosis UK also offers support through a volunteer-run helpline run by people who know what you are going through.

This article was originally published on The conversation by Danielle Perro and Christian Becker at Oxford University. Read the original article here.

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