Women's Health Hubs

Woman sitting on a hospital bed with staff member writing on a clipboard in the foreground, photo by Yuri Arcurs/Adobe Stock

Photo by Yuri Arcurs/Adobe Stock

What is the issue?

Women’s1 sexual and reproductive health needs vary throughout their lives, from the start of puberty to pregnancy and birth, menopause and beyond. Many organisations and professionals are involved, including GP services, gynaecology, maternity and community sexual health services. Women often have to attend more than one service to get the care they need. Services are not always joined up, and it can be difficult to access care. For example - smear tests and coil fitting may happen in different places and are paid for by different organisations. Funding cuts, Covid-19 and shortages of trained staff have also affected women’s health services. For women in disadvantaged groups, it can be even harder to access care and address health needs.

Local teams across the UK have responded by setting up ‘Women’s Health Hubs’.2 Hubs bring the different services together to work more closely in a local area and provide women’s health services in the community. Sometimes this can be in one place (e.g., a health centre) but often it involves clinics and care in a range of locations. Hubs are a new idea, often developed by local doctors, and most women in the UK do not yet have a hub in their local area. There are currently a number of hubs across the UK, and they are all different, with a different mix of services and staff. Services might include coil fitting, menopause care and treatment for heavy menstrual bleeding.

How are we helping?

There is a lack of research on Women’s Health Hubs, and we do not know exactly where, why and how they have been set up, or how hubs are working for women and staff. This is what we set out to address in our evaluation.

The aim of this evaluation is to explore the ‘current state of the art’ of WHHs, mapping the landscape, studying experiences of delivering and using hub services, and defining key features and early markers of success to inform policy and practice. This is a mixed-methods evaluation, combining quantitative and qualitative data collection, with data collected at local, regional and national levels.

The evaluation comprises three work packages:

  1. Mapping the current landscape and context for WHHs, including an online survey of leads from hubs across the UK and interviews with regional stakeholders.

    This involves building a database and map of all of the known Women’s Health Hubs in the UK. To do this they will survey people leading the hubs, and interview other key people involved in hubs across the country. If possible, we will also develop a working ‘typology’, sorting different types of hubs into categories.

  2. Detailed research in four purposively selected exemplar hub sites in England, including interviews with staff and service users, focus groups in local communities and documentary analysis.

    Four hub sites will be chosen to take part in in-depth research. In these four areas, the research team will interview a range of people including GPs, nurses, sexual and reproductive health consultants, gynaecologists, local senior leaders and women using hub services. The team will also hold up to four group discussions with women (one in each hub area). The discussion groups will be in a local community group in an area or community where uptake of the service is low. In addition, the team will also review key documents linked to the hubs, such as business plans and any patient feedback they have collected.

  3. Bringing together and consolidating findings from Work Packages 1 and 2 to generate evidence on WHH models, including interviews with national stakeholders.

    The team will bring together the findings from parts one and two of the study to produce evidence and provide recommendations for policy, practice and future research in this area. This will include identifying outcomes which are/could be used to understand the impact of Women’s Health Hubs on women’s health.

Footnotes

1 While we refer to women throughout, we recognise that Women’s Health Hubs may also serve people who are transgender, non-binary, with variations in sex characteristics (VSC) or who are intersex. Our evaluation considered the needs of all people who are in need of services provided by hubs and was not limited to cisgender women.

2 Women’s Health Hubs are understood differently by stakeholders – there is no single, agreed meaning and they are not necessarily a physical location but a ‘concept’. We explored the diversity in language as part of our evaluation.