For many people, endometriosis is a condition that they have never heard of, or are certainly not familiar with, yet it has blighted the lives of far too many women. The latest figures suggest that one in 10 women suffer with it. For those women, “suffering” is the correct term to use. In addition, it is associated with being the cause of infertility in 30% to 50% of cases. Shockingly, the average diagnosis time after symptoms first appear is seven and a half years.
Although the condition is not recognised as a disability as such, many women living with it will testify that it can be very disabling and debilitating. At this point, I wish to give a shout out to my constituent, Ann Devlin, who lives in Largs. She has lived with the condition and is what we might call an “endo warrior”, since she has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the condition and to support other women who live with it. She is energetic, cheerful and resilient in the face of the sometimes great challenges that the condition has placed on her life, but she still inspires, helps and supports others who face similar challenges. I pay tribute to her strength. I know how often the condition has crippled and consumed her, and too many other women. I have huge respect for all that she has done.
I also pay tribute to the work of my husband, Kenneth Gibson MSP, who worked extremely hard to ensure that there was a specialised endometriosis unit to serve women in the west of Scotland to complement the services already provided in units in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. It was simply not fair that my constituents had to travel from North Ayrshire and Arran to Edinburgh for specialist care for this condition, and he has worked hard to secure that change. He has campaigned incessantly for better treatment and greater awareness of the issue, and he was the first to bring the issue of endometriosis to the Floor of the Scottish Parliament in a debate in 2001, and again last year. He is the only Member of the Scottish Parliament to have secured debates on the issue in its 20-year history.
This debate is timely as we seek to address support in the workplace for this condition. Otherwise women find that their contribution to and potential in the workplace and wider economy is lost. Women often lose out on sick pay for the recurring nature of the condition, so that needs to be addressed. It has a huge impact on women’s lives in the world of work as they might require time out for medical treatment and consultations. They suffer pain and fatigue, and the seven and a half years before diagnosis makes it very hard for employers to treat their condition with the seriousness it deserves. We have to keep talking about it. We must keep shining a light on it and raise awareness and understanding. That in itself will do much to ease the burden of women with the condition.