Women's Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:53 am on 10th June 1988.

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Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake 11:53 am, 10th June 1988

The theory is good, but what worries me is that it might lead to one more visit to a darts, football or snooker match rather than doing what they should be while on parental leave. Having reached middle life, perhaps I am becoming slightly cynical. In theory, the concept of equal responsibility is all very well. I should like to be proved wrong and find that they might not use the opportunity for something other than for which it was intended.

As a former teacher, I am well aware of the importance of catching people young. It is important not only to have education processes and campaigns for adults but to ensure that those matters are dealt with at school. I know that teachers complain that they are always being asked to add a further item to the overloaded curriculum, but it could be subsumed, if the information were given, in the various subjects by which health education is taught.

I am particularly perturbed about the number of young girls who smoke cigarettes. It is much more difficult to give up the habit than never to start it. I have never smoked a cigarette, but those who do must feel that they are part of a highly threatened minority that is hardly allowed to exist. Even hardened smokers would probably agree, however, that it would be better if youngsters never started to smoke. A much tougher programme is needed to persuade youngsters never to begin the habit.

All the good reasons why young people should not start to smoke will not necessarily work. Young girls are most vulnerable about their appearance. They are usually deeply conscious of it. Health education must be related to how they look rather than to how they will feel or how health they will be in 20, 30, or 40 years' time. It is very easy to make a good case about never starting to smoke by relating it to their appearance.

Several Opposition Members have referred to the fact that women doctors ought to be available for those women who would prefer to see them. Some women are so diffident that they do not even make the point that they would prefer to see a woman doctor. For all those who say that they would prefer to see a woman doctor, I suspect that there are many more women who would greatly appreciate that facility but who would never voice it because they are accustomed to seeing male doctors. The most intimate details are frequently spoken about these days, but I am sure that the great majority of ordinary women are very reticent about doing so. They would find it far easier to talk to a sympathetic woman doctor whom they feel would instinctively understand what they are trying to say. However well intentioned male doctors may be, that is how very many women feel. This is particularly important to women who belong to the ethnic minority groups. It is a deep part of the culture of Asian women that they do not allow a man other than their husband to see or touch them. That may be misguided, but we shall not overcome that cultural opposition overnight. In the meantime, those women deserve as much care as any other women. They deserve the best care that is available. I hope that my hon. friend will look carefully at that aspect.

I am tempted to make a number of further points but I am aware that other hon. Members are anxious to speak in the debate. I hope that the few points that I have referred to will have made my hon. Friend the Minister aware of the fact that, although she has made an excellent start in dealing with the health of women, a great deal more remains to be done.