The Socialist

The Socialist 3 March 2021

Not a budget for the working class!

The Socialist issue 1123

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Women's health matters

NHS workers campaigning, 8th August 2020, London, photo Judy

NHS workers campaigning, 8th August 2020, London, photo Judy   (Click to enlarge)

Mary Finch, Waltham forest Socialist Party

Working-class women have suffered enormously during the pandemic. We've been disproportionately hit by job losses, pay cuts, and the additional burden of home schooling and childcare. But the Tories have recently been forced to make some concessions on women's healthcare and reproductive rights as they attempt to limit face-to-face medical appointments.

Doctors have been able to prescribe the abortion pill over the phone to be taken at home (see,uk) and a consultation has recently been launched regarding over-the-counter sales of progesterone-only contraceptive pills in pharmacies.

If the outcome is favourable, this would be a positive step. However, the pills should be free in order to guarantee access to all women, not sold at inflated prices as has been the case with the 'morning after' pill.

It has also been announced that the NHS is rolling out a trial of home smear tests. Up to 600,000 smear tests - for cervical cancer - were cancelled in April and May last year because of coronavirus.

Even now that testing has resumed, many women are facing a long wait as the NHS buckles under the pressure of the pandemic. And many more women are avoiding booking their test altogether out of fear of catching coronavirus.

Home tests are less invasive and uncomfortable than the traditional test and a follow-up test will be performed by the GP if abnormal cells are detected. They don't involve the speculum, an instrument used during internal examinations. It's unpleasant and can be extremely painful - and is also a major reason why so many are reluctant to have a smear test. Before the pandemic, around 1.5 million tests were missed annually, mostly due to embarrassment and fear of pain or discomfort.

But it seems the problem with the speculum isn't so much the instrument itself as the way it's used. Medical professionals are often quick to dismiss women in pain as hysterical or exaggerating, and when they do believe women, there's an expectation that they should grit their teeth and bear it. Clinicians simply listening and agreeing to pause or end painful examinations would go a long way to reducing skipped tests.

The accuracy of self-administered smear tests is not yet clear, and must be established before they become more widely used. But if they can accurately detect abnormal cells they, like the other measures which give women more autonomy over their bodies, must be made a permanent option. We cannot allow the small improvements which have been made to disappear when the pandemic ends.

  • See 'A fighting programme for women's rights and socialism' for a programme for women's health and reproductive rights

In this issue


Not a budget for the working class!

Public sector workers respond to the budget


President of 'big four' Labour-affiliated trade union joins TUSC committee

Women's health matters

International Women's Day

A fighting programme for women's rights and socialism

A history of International Women's Day

What we think

Liverpool Labour meltdown - Fight for socialist policies

School safety

Schools' safety - teachers demand fighting union strategy


'Casino capitalism' - driving another potential financial Armageddon

1981: New Cross Massacre


Bus workers under attack and fighting back

Manchester indefinite bus strike against 'fire and rehire'

HMRC: Pay deal agreed but at what cost?

British Gas strike

Sparks force bosses back but fight continues to stamp out deskilling

Reinstate victimised bus driver Declan Clune

RAF Leeming strike escalates

Tech workers walk out against 'fire and rehire'

Victory for Judith, defend Moe


Why we need socialists in London city hall

Socialist Students conference

Swansea BLM protest against racist police brutality

Union fight to save musicians' livelihoods

Labour surrenders to Tories in Devon

Determined to smash the fighting fund target to fuel election challenge in May


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3 March 2021