Women’s Health – Let’s Talk About It: Department of Health and Social Care

A Response from Lipoedema UK submitted by Suzanne Evans, Founder and Trustee

Lipoedema UK is pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the government’s call for evidence to address inequalities in women’s health. We recognise from our work with both women and the health professionals who treat them that there is most certainly a ‘gender health gap’ and one that is especially visible when it comes to the treatment of lipoedema, a condition suffered almost exclusively by women.

Executive summary of the main points made in this submission:

  • Women with lipoedema are unlikely to receive a diagnosis of their condition until middle age, despite symptoms usually first coinciding with puberty. Greater awareness is needed within the medical community and the general public, so women can be diagnosed and supported earlier.
  • A failure to adequately fund and support nationwide lymphoedema services, where lipoedema is most likely to be diagnosed, or standalone lipoedema services, means women in dire need of treatment are refused help. CCGs should allocate resources and funding for lipoedema patients to prevent higher long-term NHS costs and an unacceptable quality of life cost to women patients.
  • Lipoedema UK challenges the current NHS philosophy that specialist liposuction for lipoedema is ‘cosmetic’ surgery and therefore should not be funded. We believe this misrepresents the facts and is clear evidence of women’s health inequality, given the life-changing potential of such surgery.
  • Women with lipoedema regularly experience prejudice within the public health service. Lipodema UK suggests this can be explained by a strong implicit and explicit anti-fat bias that evidence suggests is as pervasive among medical doctors as it is among the general public.
  • If the healthcare system is to work for everyone, the ingrained fat-bias within the medical profession must be tackled. Public health is not well served when it discriminates against women with non-normative bodies who are wrongly labelled ‘obese.’
  • Lipoedema UK research suggests the existing workplace gender pay gap is exacerbated for women with lipoedema. They are doubly discriminated against by being prevented from advancing in their careers because of ill health, and therefore not having sufficient funds to pay for private treatment which could enable them to get their lives and careers back on track.