Women – Why We Should Stop Putting on a Brave Face


When it comes to getting the health care we deserve, women face some unique difficulties. Not only are most guidelines for diagnosis and treatment based on research on men, new research shows that women are less likely to confide in friends and family about pain resulting from medical negligence.


Data gathered by Patient Claim Line reveals that not wanting to make a fuss is the main reason women delay filing a claim for medical malpractice, but making a fuss is precisely what we need to do if we want to improve the standard of health care for all.

As women, we don’t just face gynecological and obstetric problems, we are also more likely to experience delays in diagnosis and treatment of a heart attack and even appendicitis. There’s even a name for this phenomenon: Yentl Syndrome, so-called because of the Barbra Streisand movie where she has to pretend to be a man in order to get a decent education.

Pretending to be a man in order to access better health care is certainly not the way to go, but neither is putting on a brave face and pretending that everything’s fine when it isn’t. While men are more likely to speak out (and to be heard) when they experience poor service by health professionals, 25% of women report trying to hide their pain from friends and family.

Women are more likely to think that they either don’t have a legitimate claim or delay making a claim because they believe others will think poorly of them if they do raise a fuss. In fact, the main reason women do end up pursuing a claim is not for compensation, revenge, or justice, but to try to help others avoid suffering a similar fate.

Improving Healthcare for Women

Research in the U.S.A. shows that when women file medical negligence claims things do improve. This is because policy makers and health professionals are motivated to do better, resulting in improved practice guidelines, a reduction in the number of subsequent malpractice suits, and a decrease in costs associated with such suits, meaning that more money is available for patient care.

In the UK in 2013/14, obstetrics accounted for just 11% of all medical negligence claims, and gynecology just 2% of all claims. If a quarter of women are actively hiding their pain from those closest to them, then the NHS ought to be pretty worried about the number of malpractice suits they could face if more women felt empowered to speak up. This is especially true given that obstetrics already accounts for more than a third of the value of all clinical negligence claims, at least according to the NHS figures for 2013/14.

Adopting the attitude that we mustn’t grumble when faced with shoddy health care doesn’t help anybody. Indeed, patient advocacy groups actively encourage women to speak up about poor treatment they have received, to reach out to each other and offer support, and even to file malpractice suits where appropriate.

Instead of worrying that others will think badly of us if we pursue legal action, let’s start holding the medical establishment accountable by supporting each other in speaking out when things go wrong.