The vast majority of public healthcare is free at the point of use in the U.K. Unless they go private, patients do not pay to see general practitioners, to access emergency care or to take necessary medical tests. Prescriptions, eye care and dental care are often either free or subsidised for those with certain conditions.
Public health initiatives like screening programs for blood pressure, cancer and other serious health conditions are also performed throughout the country, with members of the public invited to attend tests free of charge once they reach certain age milestones.
Overall, testing levels for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer improved from 2020 to 2021.
Yet research shows women in some demographic groups — those on lower income or those from ethnic minority backgrounds – continue to be less likely to attend screening programs or contact their family doctor.
Research commissioned by women’s health company Hologic found women earning £25,000 ($31,000) tended to engage less with preventative program; attending fewer screening appointments and taking up vaccine invitations less often than wealthier women.
The report into 10,650 U.K. women found that roughly ten percent of those on low incomes had never had a blood pressure test or a cervical screening for cancer. This compares to five percent of those earning £40,000 ($49,000) or more, according to The Independent.
Fifteen percent of these women, the research from OnePoll found, did not attend as they did not feel they needed to have such checks.
Low income women were also less likely to contact their general practitioner if they had a health complaint (40% versus 46%).
Yet these women were also more likely to experience chronic pain that prevented them from working. Some 30% of those experiencing daily pain were unable to work, in comparison to 10% of those in the higher income bracket.
Even greater disparities in screening uptake were found among women from different ethnic backgrounds, with , as the International Travel & Health Insurance Journal notes. More than two-thirds of white women surveyed had attended a cervical cancer screening, compared to less than a third of ethnic minority women. Just 11 percent of women from ethnic minority backgrounds had attended a breast cancer screening, comparted to 25% of white women.
Young women were also particularly unlikely to attend screening appointments or take up vaccine invitations.
There are likely to be many factors influencing women’s reluctance to engage with preventative health factors.
The research found that women in low income groups tended to feel less comfortable talking to and understanding health professionals. They were also less likely to know where to access information about health.
Dr Nighat Arif, a GP specialising in women’s health and family planning, said in a statement: “As the data shows, there are still stark health disparities across the UK, particularly impacting women from ethnic minorities.
“This is sadly something I see daily through my work, hearing from women who do not feel represented or listened to. To tackle this, health information must be made more accessible and there needs to be more done to communicate with women in these communities.”