YOUNG women in Scotland are struggling to access the healthcare they need and are instead “patronised and minimised”, a report has found.

The Young Women’s Movement (YWM) conducted research between October 2022 and April 2023, exploring the healthcare experiences across the board, from registering with a GP to interacting with healthcare professionals.

The findings, revealed in the sixth iteration of The Status of Young Women in Scotland report, showed that young women struggle to access health care and support frequently.

Young women said they felt as if they were not taken seriously in healthcare settings, were often dismissed, and their experiences minimised.

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Others said they felt patronised and not believed by health professionals when asking for basic care.

The report also found that many young women were left with no further support or follow-ups from medical professionals.

“So many young women we engaged with had a story about being dismissed in a healthcare setting, where they had come away from an interaction with a healthcare professional feeling like they had not been heard,” Rhianna Mallia, research and policy lead at YWM said.

“This results in young women having to push and push to access the health care they need and deserve, a responsibility which should not lie upon them.  “Young women want to be heard, seen, listened to and validated. They want healthcare professionals to take them seriously.

“They no longer want to experience medical misogyny or gaslighting in healthcare settings.

The National: Young women in Scotland feel as if they are not being taken seriously by health professionalsYoung women in Scotland feel as if they are not being taken seriously by health professionals

“Young women and people of marginalised genders need to feel safe to access timely care.

“Especially in relation to abortion and reproductive services, gender-affirming healthcare and mental health support.” 

One of the main issues raised was the difficulty of trying to access GP or other appointments, as many operate a lottery-style system where you have to call on the same day, in the early morning, if you want any chance of getting an appointment.

The report pointed out that many young women work in industries or have caring responsibilities which make early mornings difficult, as well as the impact of mental health conditions and the struggle some may have to communicate properly on the phone, due to either language barriers or neurodivergence.

Overall, making appointments within healthcare services was seen as extremely difficult by many respondents, and young women often viewed reception staff as “gatekeepers to healthcare”. 

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However, there are other issues which can compound problems with accessing healthcare for young women, including age, gender, living in a rural area, being part of an ethnic minority, being disabled, being trans, as well as even body type and weight.

Those with long-term health conditions, the report also found, tend to have some of the worst experiences due to the “one size fits all” nature of the treatment.

Of respondents with long-term conditions, 49% were more likely to rate their healthcare experiences negatively, while 65% of disabled contributors said that having a disability was associated with poorer access to healthcare.

Young women also have to vocally advocate for themselves in order to see any progress in their healthcare providers, the report also found.

One respondent, who has not been named, said: "I tried to access mental healthcare so many times before I was finally able to see a specialist. It took YEARS for me to get life-saving healthcare and medication.

“The first time I went to see my GP despite pretty severe symptoms I was told to do a worksheet and try not to think about it.

“I get angry thinking about how much easier my life could have been if I'd been taken seriously when I was a teenager, especially because I don't think they would have reacted that way if I hadn't been a brown teenage girl."  

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Jenni Snell, CEO at YWM, said: “I would urge everyone working in the health sector, policy development and service design, especially those in positions of decision-making, to demonstrate a real commitment to thinking differently.

“A commitment to meaningfully listening to and including a diverse range of young women and girls’ voices moving forward.

“This report highlights concerning findings and should be used as a baseline to influence, inform and co-design the future of health and wellbeing services that truly meet the needs of young women and girls.”  Over 900 young women and people of marginalised genders, aged 16-30 and from each of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, were engaged during the research.

The National: Minto welcomed the report findings from the YWMMinto welcomed the report findings from the YWM

Jenni Minto, women’s health minister, welcomed the report and said it aligned with the aims of the Scottish Government’s Women’s Health Plan.

“Our plan sets out actions to reduce women’s health inequalities by raising awareness around women’s health, improving access to health care for women across their lives, and improving health outcomes for women and girls,” she said.

“It also highlights the importance of ensuring women can access good quality, consistent information about their health and I was very pleased to see young women acknowledge our NHS Inform women’s health platform as a helpful, supportive and inclusive resource.

“While we have made good progress in implementing the actions in the plan there is still much to do – and we want to take the opportunity to address inequalities so that all women enjoy the best possible health throughout their lives.”