Women and the Crisis in the National Health Service
The factor most immediately responsible for recent developments in the women’s health movement in Britain has been the attacks on welfare begun under Labour and pursued with such vigour by the Conservative government elected in 1979 (Politics of Health Group 1980, 1982). The fact that a reasonably effective health service could no longer be taken for granted, served to highlight the undoubted value of the service in meeting some of women’s most basic health needs. Thus the NHS could no longer be pushed into the background and its defence became an important priority for feminist health activists. Cut-backs in the NHS have affected women even more seriously than they have men, for three main reasons. First, women are the major users of medical care and therefore suffer most when services are reduced or withdrawn. Moreover, in Britain it has often been the community services, which are used by women and children in particular, that have been defined as ‘non-essential’ and easily removable. Yet women are also the major producers of health care. They constitute over 70 per cent of all NHS workers, so that reductions in staffing and a deterioration in working conditions affect them most acutely.
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