Women's sexual and reproductive health
Women's sexual and reproductive health

Blog: Women’s Hubs: “This is ground-breaking work and women are benefitting.”

With the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) launching a £25 million fund to support Women’s Hubs – Sexual & Reproductive Health Commissioning lead for Liverpool, James Woolgar tells us why this new fund is so vital, and how the city is already trailblazing in this field.

“Many people will know that the Women’s Health Strategy for England was published last year (July 2022) – and is vital to improving women’s health across the country. 

One part of this significant plan is to deliver a broader roll out of ‘Women’s Health Hubs’, or holistic one stop shops. 

Earlier this week (On International Women’s Day) DHSC launched a new £25million fund to support that ambition and help expand hubs to more regions. 

Liverpool is already being celebrated for making significant progress in this area (we have been an early adopter) – having developed our ‘Women’s Hubs’ over the last 2-3 years. 

I am really proud to say that we have been featured in multiple national case studies and are referenced in the Women’s Health Strategy itself for our trailblazing work.

There’s a host of evidence to support the fact that women are disproportionately affected by the lack of co-commissioned services, particularly in the sexual and reproductive health arena – and that fragmented services and budgets are of concern. 

But this isn’t the case in Liverpool. 

We have successfully built a model of care that allows women to access a range of hubs across the city for contraception, heavy menstrual bleeding, menopause care, cervical screening – and now ring pessaries for prolapse. 

The model is helping to meet local demand and is working effectively alongside Liverpool Women’s Hospital by managing routine care out into General Practice (and back again). 

This work has been continually supported by colleagues in the NHS (Liverpool Place) and by our Director of Public Health, Matthew Ashton, and Portfolio Cabinet Member for Social Care and Health, Councillor Frazer Lake.

Roughly 50% of British women experience poor sexual and reproductive health – a much higher number than men (BMC Public Health, 9 January 2020).

Because of this, there has been multiple All-Party Parliamentary (APPG) inquiries calling for improved collaboration and integration, as well as better system access in relation to contraceptive needs, both pre and post pandemic. 

Liverpool’s challenges are similar, with women experiencing backlogs and waits for contraception and management of gynaecological conditions locally – and demand is high.

Liverpool has a larger population of women of child-bearing age than the England average (c. 110,600) – which is why our redesign and improving access to services was vital. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ (RCOG) ‘Better for Women’ report of 2019 backed the view that we very much needed to find ways to collaborate across systems and centre provision around the needs of women – and the Advisory Group on Contraception (AGC) echoed this. 

Indeed, both recommended that we consider commissioning ‘women’s health hubs’ as far back as 2019-20 and Liverpool did just that!

These hubs have built on the provision of local authority-funded contraception, alongside other reproductive services -such as cervical screening, psychosexual services, heavy periods, menopause treatment.

Our holistic ‘one stop’ approach has seen local providers come together, and 7 of the 9 Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are part of the inter-referral and hub delivery offer – which is making real impact to the lives of our residents!

Latest data suggests that our prescribing rate for Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (coils, implants etc…) has resulted in 820 more women accessing the service they needed via General Practice.

Some PCNs have increased their activity in this area by over 250%, more than doubling their previous activity.

Access is key, and appointment availability has significantly increased.

These hubs further link to our broad ranging contraceptive offer via pharmacies, which ensures that nobody is more than 10 minutes away from being able to access a service. 

This is ground-breaking work, and women are benefitting.

As the current Chair of English HIV and Sexual Health Commissioners’ Group (EHSHCG), I’m particularly proud that we get to put this work on the national stage and that people want to emulate what we’ve done!

My role as Chair of the EHSHCG gives me that opportunity to put Liverpool in the spotlight for our work in this field and builds on a number of awards we’ve been shortlisted for (and various case studies we have written for national audiences.)

I’ve worked closely with the DHSC to shape commissioner input into the Women’s Health Strategy, and now that it’s been published, we have a wonderful opportunity to shape a local population health approach to improving the health of all women locally and improving pathways into services.

I feel incredibly excited about what is ahead and hope that we are one of the first to now nominate a local Women’s Health Champion to further scope and integrate care and write a new strategy catering for all needs across the life-course for women.”

Liverpool Waterfront