FSRH in Scotland: Continuing to Promote Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights

Posted 12 Dec 2022

Date: 12 Dec 2022

Author: Dr Sinead Cook

Sexual and reproductive health services across the UK are returning in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, despite ongoing financial and structural challenges.

FSRH continues to be at the forefront of positive change and as the new Chair of FSRH’s Scotland Committee, I am delighted to provide leadership for our work in Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s Women’s Health Plan is now one year old, and its ambitious goals to promote improvements and reduce inequalities in women’s health across the life-course are being progressed and implemented. FSRH members in Scotland played a significant role in ensuring that SRH was central to the Plan through involvement in working groups and other fora.  Dr Alison Scott, previous Scotland Committee Chair, was seconded part-time from her clinical role to lead this agenda. Women across Scotland are already benefiting through the enhanced role of community pharmacists in providing contraception and an increased emphasis on post-partum contraception and many other changes.

The recently revised Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s Sexual Health Standards and the forthcoming restatement and updating of the Scottish Government’s Sexual Health Framework (due in spring 2023) were both developed with involvement of FSRH’s Scotland Committee members.

The Scotland Committee has undergone a recent refresh. After serving as Interim Chair for a year, I took on the Chair role this autumn, alongside working as Sexual and Reproductive Health Consultant in NHS Grampian and being the lead for young people and child protection. To better reflect all the NHS professionals who provide SRH healthcare I have expanded the Committee. For the first time the Scottish Committee now has a pharmacist member, alongside GP representation and SRH medical and nursing staff from specialist SRH services – who all advocate for women’s reproductive rights within and alongside their clinical roles. 

FSRH Scotland Committee works closely with FRSH Officers and colleagues across the UK through Council and other groups and fora. FSRH recently published the Hatfield Vision, that argues the need to do more to improve women’s reproductive health and sets out a clear framework to do this within England. The Vision proposes the need to transform different aspects of healthcare so women and girls can experience high quality reproductive health at every life stage. Its overall aims are very relevant to the context in Scotland and align closely with those in national goals and plans, albeit within a differently configured healthcare system and political environment.

Some Hatfield Vision goals and aims have been achieved in Scotland – like the availability of emergency contraception in community pharmacies, with access to POP now being rolled out after national agreement. There is a long established integrated SRH digital patient record system (NaSH – National Sexual Health System) in Scotland, and through the Women’s Health Plan NHS inform now provides extensive information on women’s health including new sections on menstrual health. Besides that, Scotland was the world leader in providing free menstrual products to address period poverty in a variety of locations including health services. The Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Women’s Health – in which FSRH in Scotland is very active – played a huge part in supporting the Private Members Bill that initiated this achievement.

Some Hatfield aspirations continue to be challenging in Scotland, for example women who seek late stage terminations are inconvenienced as no clinical unit provides them, and travel to England is required. As Chair of FSRH’s Scotland Committee, I am committed to using our expertise and energies to influence and inform national decision-making and policy development to ensure that such inequalities and inequities are eradicated. 

FSRH in Scotland’s current work includes supporting plans for buffer zones to protect those accessing abortion services, and promoting improved SRH training and increasing the medical workforce. We are working to increase the number of CSRH training posts in Scotland, and NHS Education for Scotland has agreed for two extra CSRH training posts to start in 2023. However, there will still be a current, and increasing (with planned retirements) issue, with a lack of SRH consultants across Scotland despite these two new posts. We will continue to promote SRH as an exciting and rewarding speciality to ensure that support and expertise is available.

I very much look forward to continuing FSRH’s work in Scotland and maximising the benefits of transnational working.

FSRH President Dr Janet Barter recently made this comment:

"I am looking forward to working with Dr Cook and the FSRH Scotland Committee in my new role. There is much to admire in the work that Committee members have achieved over many years in Scotland, and as an organisation serving the whole UK population we must continue to collaborate and learn from one another."

Dr Barter is planning to meet with FRSH members in Scotland in person in early 2023, along with FSRH Chief Executive Gary Waltham. All members in Scotland will be invited via direct email and a new Scottish member newsletter once a date is finalised. Please contact me directly if you wish to find out more about this event - or the work of FSRH in Scotland.