Sajid Javid condemns NHS move to remove word ‘women’ from advice web pages on ovarian cancer


Health Secretary Sajid Javid condemns NHS move to remove word ‘women’ from advice web pages on ovarian cancer as he calls for ‘common sense’ and the ‘right language’ to be used

  • Sajid Javid said ‘biological sex was incredibly important’ after the word change
  • The NHS has removed terms like women from three of its cancer landing pages 
  • These are the pages for ovarian cancer, womb cancer and for cervix cancer
  • Collectively these cancers kill about 7,500 British women every year on average
  • Health experts say omitting female language risks missing the target audience 
  • NHS says it is committed to making pages as ‘helpful’ to whoever needs them

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has hit out at the NHS for making a webpage on ovarian cancer gender-free – with no mention of the word ‘women’.

The minister, 52, said he does not agree with the health service reportedly removing the word from its online guidance.

He told Sky News ‘common sense and the right language’ should be used to ‘give people the best possible patient care’.

The word ‘women’ does not appear in the overview of the disease on the NHS.uk website.

Instead it states: ‘Ovarian cancer affects the two small organs (ovaries) that store the eggs needed to make babies.

‘Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, but it mostly affects those over 50.’

The word ‘women’ first appears on the third page of the ovarian cancer section of the website.

‘Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer. This includes women, trans men, non-binary people and intersex people with ovaries,’ it states.

Sajid Javid said 'biological sex was incredibly important' after the word change on the NHS site

Sajid Javid said ‘biological sex was incredibly important’ after the word change on the NHS site

NHS ovarian cancer page as of December 2021, featuring two mentions of women

The new page, updated in January omits the word women

The old version of the NHS ovarian cancer page as of December 30 2021 (left) mentions women specifically twice, whereas the new version (right) omits them 

The old version of the NHS womb cancer page highlights how the cancer is a common cancer of the female reproductive system

But the new version omits both the terms of 'female' and 'women'

A similar change has happened with womb cancer, with both ‘women’ and ‘female’ mentioned in the older version from August 2021  (left) but omitted in the right

Asked about reports that the NHS has dropped the word from advice pages on its website, Mr Javid said: ‘Well, look, I haven’t seen that particular report, but I have heard of instances like that and I don’t think it’s right.

‘You won’t be surprised to know that, as the Health Secretary, I think that your sex matters, your biological sex is incredibly important to make sure you get the right treatment, the very best treatment.’

Pressed on whether he will get the wording changed back, Mr Javid said: ‘I am looking into this and you’ll know, look, the NHS, there (are) many different trusts and I want to listen to why someone might have taken a different approach – I don’t just want to assume – but I think I’ve made my views clear on this.’

He added: ‘I know there’s some sensitivity around this language, but we have to use common sense and use the right language so that we can give people the best possible patient care.’

Last month MailOnline revealed how official NHS advice about ovarian, womb and cervix cancers had quietly removed the word ‘women’ from their webpages.

The term was missing from the landing pages of three sections explaining cancers only found in biological women

In the old version of the NHS page on cervical cancer the disease is said to develop in a 'woman's cervix'

But any mention of women is missing from the new version of the page

Lastly, the NHS page on cervix cancer has also been changed with the old version from August 2021 mentioning ‘woman’ and ‘women’ but these terms have been removed in the new webpage

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF OVARIAN CANCER? 

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognise, particularly early on.

They’re often the same as symptoms of less serious conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). 

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Feeling constantly bloated
  • A swollen tummy
  • Discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area
  • Feeling full quickly when eating, or loss of appetite
  • Needing to pee more often or more urgently than normal

Other symptoms can include:

  • Persistent indigestion or nausea
  • Pain during sex
  • A change in your bowel habits
  • Back pain
  • Vaginal bleeding – particularly bleeding after the menopause
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Unintentional weight loss

When to see your GP

See your GP if:

  • You’ve been feeling bloated most days for the last three weeks
  • You have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that won’t go away – especially if you’re over 50 or have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, as you may be at a higher risk

It’s unlikely you have cancer, but it’s best to check. Your GP can do some simple tests. 

Source: NHS Choices 

 

Advertisement

It comes amid ongoing concerns about trans-inclusive language in NHS guidance, with services currently in a ‘woke‘ storm about de-gendering language surrounding women and pregnancy by erasing terms like breastfeeding.

Some student midwives have even been taught how to help biological men give birth, even though it’s scientifically impossible.

The original version of the ovarian NHS cancer page featured the line: ‘Ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is one of the most common types of cancer in women.’

It also highlights the women who may be particularly at risk, saying: ‘Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can sometimes affect younger women.’

However, in an update sneaked out in January — which campaigners only uncovered this week — both lines were removed.

Instead, another line was added: ‘Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, but it mostly affects those over 50.’

Experts also warned the change could actually be dangerous for women by over-complicating health messaging.

But the NHS has defended the update, stating it seeks to make the pages ‘as helpful as possible to everyone who needs them’. 

There about 7,500 new ovarian cancer cases in the UK each year, with around 4,200 deaths. 

Similar changes have also been made to the NHS’s womb cancer page, which used to open with: ‘Cancer of the womb (uterine or endometrial cancer) is a common cancer that affects the female reproductive system.’

‘It’s more common in women who have been through the menopause.’

But the page was changed in October last year to omit these lines, with no other mention of women on the main page. 

The same has happened to the NHS cervical cancer page with the previous version stating: ‘Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). It mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45.’

While the new version does feature a diagram of vagina, womb and cervix, no mention of women or woman is made.

There are about 9,700 womb cancer cases in the UK a year, with some 2,400 deaths. And there are about 3,200 new cervical cancer cases, with around 850 deaths.

Professor Jenny Gamble, a midwifery expert from Coventry University, told MailOnline the change in language risked women missing out on health information.

‘The trend to avoid using the terms woman and women is unhelpful,’ she said.

‘It is a well-established principle of communication that the sex of individuals should be made visible when relevant and should not be made visible when not. 

‘This ensures that sex-related needs and issues are not overlooked.’

Professor Gamble, who along with several other experts co-authored a paper on the importance of sex-specific language in healthcare, said ensuring health information reaches the intended audience was critical.    

‘In health communication the target group should readily be able to determine that the information applies to them,’ she said.

‘In relation to ovarian cancer, using the terms women and woman, in a sexed sense, is relevant as ovarian cancer only affects women.’

She added however that on a individual level sensitive, respectful communication tailored to a patient should be used.

The NHS website is managed by NHS Digital, and a spokesperson highlighted that women were subsequently mentioned in other subsections of the ovarian cancer website.

They also said that the pages are continually updated in line with best evidence and to be as relevant as possible to all people. 

‘We have updated the pages as part of our routine review of web pages to keep them in line with the best clinical evidence, and make them as helpful as possible to everyone who needs them,’ they said.

MailOnline also asked Health Secretary Sajid Javid who this week posted on Twitter that ‘Biological sex matters — ask any doctor or nurse’ for his opinion on the changes but he did not respond.

The change to the NHS webpages is the latest in an ongoing battle about the use of gendered terms in the health service. 

Earlier this year it was revealed that hospitals are asking men if they are pregnant before they have scans or cancer treatment.

In May MailOnline revealed how NHS hospitals have spent more than £800,000 on gender-neutral toilets in the past four years.

It also comes after this website revealed last month that midwifery students at Edinburgh Napier University were being taught biological men could get pregnant and trans men could give birth even if they have a penis.

In a coursebook that has since been revised, trainee midwives were given detailed instructions on how to treat a male-to-female trans person during childbirth. 

Source

Related posts