One of the Hunter’s most respected lawyers has unveiled her new free eBook to coincide with Women’s Health Week.
More than 70 locals gathered at a forum, at Fort Scratchley on Thursday 8 September, to discuss how the law can support the important issue.
The occasion allowed Newcastle-based legal eagle Catherine Henry to launch her latest offering, Your Body Your Health: A legal guide to women’s health, too, which is set to become a vital community resource.
Ms Henry also moderated the panel – consisting of Wallsend state MP Sonia Hornery, Maroba Aged Care CEO Viv Allanson, Victims of Crime Assistance League Newcastle CEO Kerrie Thompson, GP Specialist in Reproductive and Sexual Health Dr Phoebe Walsh and Oasis Solutions principal, former nurse and academic Dr Shirley Shulz-Robinson – who chatted about the challenges facing women in the area of health and what can be done to advance women’s interests, rights and outcomes.
For three decades, she’s litigated cases for women experiencing poor, or avoidable, health outcomes.
“Our health law team see the whole gamut of health issues that women face,” Ms Henry said.
“We (Catherine Henry Lawyers) wanted to write a comprehensive guide – from before the cradle to grave – to help them know their legal rights in relation to health issues.”
Topics covered in the book include abortion, contraception, pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, healthy ageing, chronic pain, sexual and other violence, mental health, making complaints, through to aged care.
“It’s had a long gestation period because there is a lot of information to cover,” Ms Henry said.
“We will continue to update it to provide a useful and comprehensive community resource.”
Ms Henry said women lived longer and had worse health outcomes than men.
“They use the health system more than men, too,” she explained.
“They have long battled misogyny in the healthcare sector and the legal system with women’s health issues and their impacts not taken as seriously as they should be.
“As well, women have historically been treated as guinea pigs by the medical industry with devastating consequences.
“Implants, hormone replacement therapy and vaginal mesh are three examples.”
The panel agreed access to health and aged care was a major issue for women, particularly for those in regional and rural areas.
Panellists listed access to abortion, especially early medical abortion; mental health support, including for survivors of sexual or domestic violence; and a lack of health care workers and capacity of services in regional areas; as some of the current problems.
Dr Shulz-Robinson said access to multi-disciplinary care via community health centres and mental health nurses had diminished.
“There needs to be a greater focus on providing culturally-appropriate and gender-appropriate care,” she stated.
“The casualisation of the health workforce made it difficult for staff to provide proper care to patients.”
Ms Allanson called on governments and citizens to realise more funding in health and aged care was needed.
“While the task is rewarding, it can be a burden on women financially and on their own well-being,” she said.
“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect things to get better.
“As a society we need to better look after people needing health and aged care and those who care for them.”
On the question of what the audience and other members of the community can do to help improve women’s health, the panel was unanimous.
They agreed governments must invest more in services and pay attention to what front line services and staff say were the problems and solutions.
“There needs to be more studies into adverse events and more public reporting of data on those events and other aspects of health care,” Dr Shulz-Robinson said.
“When things go wrong, it is the person on the front line who is blamed but the issue is often systemic.”
Ms Hornery encouraged people to make their views on health and aged care known, rather than saying nothing.
“Everyone should make representations on specific matters to health care providers and politicians,” she said.
“Make some noise,” Ms Allanson added.
“You will all need to use these services one day.”