Unsupported, rushed and unheard: Report reveals women’s experiences in healthcare

Covid restrictions in maternity care seen as key example of lack of empathy for women’s needs

Women have spoken about feeling unsupported, rushed and unheard when accessing the Irish healthcare system in a new report.

They have also described the lack of visibility of women in the system, practices not moving forward progressively, and inadequate communication and joined-up thinking. Restrictions in maternity care settings due to Covid-19 were seen as a particular example of a lack of empathy for women’s needs by those aged 26 to 35 years.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly published a report on Tuesday of a "radical listening" exercise to hear women's voices on women's health through research commissioned by the Women's Health Taskforce this year.

Led by independent researchers, more than 270 women participated in the discussions from all over Ireland, sharing their experiences of and wishes for the Irish health system.


The research was carried out in three stages beginning in mid-2020 and finishing in June 2021, involving social and media listening, hearing women’s stories and experiences, and national workshops with women.

Effective communication

The report says that for many, experiences with healthcare are positive, with open and trusted relationships with GPs referenced, effective communication in acute care, and access to services, including tailored female-centric services, when it comes to screening. In terms of maternity care, many also said they had positive experiences, highlighting “listening and empathy, right services, aftercare and engagement with the mother”.

However, women also spoke of feeling unsupported, not knowing what’s ahead, and of feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

In particular, those in caring roles expressed feeling as if they are treated unfairly and without dignity, and not provided adequate resources.

Priority areas identified to improve women’s experiences in healthcare were making women’s health part of the conversation and removing taboo and stigma, educating and informing women and men, and “women-first thinking” in the delivery of services.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said listening to women is “the cornerstone of our work on women’s health”.

“This report and the conversations it represents are a vital part of how we create a new approach to women’s health in this country. The report captures some very honest and candid feedback which shows us where we can build on good practices, but which can also help us critically assess where we can deliver more and better for women,” he said.

“I’m focused today on engaging with the women who participated in this exercise and listening to their perspectives and their experiences. Over the coming weeks, I will announce further measures to improve the delivery of women’s healthcare in Ireland, informed and underpinned by the voices and perspectives in this report and what I have heard here today. This is not a conclusion, this needs to be an ongoing conversation. What we need, and what we are working towards, is a revolution in women’s healthcare.”

Principal caregivers

Peggy Maguire, co-chair of the Women's Health Taskforce and director at the European Institute of Women's Health, said a focus of the taskforce is understanding women's experiences of health services "both in their own right and as principal caregivers".

“As mothers, daughters, wives and friends, women are the managers of health and key health decision-makers, often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. Women are also patients, particularly during their older years, in an increasingly ageing society where women outlive men but spend their older years disproportionately burdened by ill-health,” she said.

“The Radical Listening exercise places women’s voices at the centre of taskforce activity, and acknowledges the improvement of health and wellbeing of women across the lifespan as a priority for Irish health policy.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times