From contaminated blood to birth trauma: how the concerns of female NHS patients are being ignored

England’s Patient Safety Commissioner Henrietta Hughes has warned that NHS patients who raise concerns are too often “manipulated”, “fobbed off” or dismissed as “difficult women”.

“It shows a very dismissive and old-fashioned, patronizing attitude towards patients who have identified problems and need their voices heard,” she said.

Here are some examples of cases where women who raised the alarm were ignored.

Contaminated blood

Women who contracted hepatitis C after receiving contaminated blood during childbirth have told how they were “manipulated” by doctors when they tried to seek help for symptoms linked to the virus.

Many were told they suffered from conditions such as depression, allergies or irritable bowel syndrome.

Doctors thought many of the women were alcoholics and refused to believe them when they said they had stopped drinking because their liver problems persisted.

Many women have had to wait decades before finally being diagnosed with hepatitis C. This delay has led to serious and ongoing health problems.

According to charities, these women were “failed twice” – first when they received contaminated blood transfusions and again when they sought help for their symptoms.

Birth trauma

A woman who repeatedly reported to NHS staff that she was in extreme pain in the final weeks of her pregnancy had been labelled a ‘frightened mother’ on her notes, a parliamentary inquiry into birth trauma has been told. In fact, she was bleeding internally as a result of tissue tearing behind her womb.

Another had to chase her hospital to arrange a scan, including 44 phone calls in one day, after her belly dropped in height. If she had been given a scan, as recommended in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) guidelines, it would have revealed her baby was failing to thrive. The baby died in labour.

One mother told the survey that she had expressed concern that her baby looked jaundiced, but the midwife told her he was fine. “She wrote in my notes that I was an overprotective mother and that my baby was not jaundiced.”

It was only after her husband intervened that a doctor confirmed their baby had jaundice. “The next day, the page the midwife had written was torn out,” the mother told the inquiry.

The study found that psychological complaints or symptoms after a traumatic birth were often ignored or dismissed as unimportant.


A woman was ‘fobbed off’ by her doctors after they failed to diagnose her bowel cancer for a year, an investigation by the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Health (PHSO) found last year.

Charlie Puplett, 45, raised concerns at her GP surgery in Yeovil, Somerset, about unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite and a change in her bowel habits. But the operation did not test her for bowel cancer – a doctor suggested she was anorexic and “in denial”, she said.

She was not diagnosed until almost a year later, when she was rushed to hospital after vomiting blood. Puplett’s experience was detailed in a PHSO investigation, which concluded that her symptoms should have been “red flags” that prompted urgent testing within two weeks. She was said to have been “failed” by her doctors.

Due to delayed treatment, Puplett required emergency surgery on two-thirds of her colon and a temporary colostomy.

Reproductive health

TV stars Vicky Pattison and Naga Munchetty have told how they were told to accept it when they sought help for menstrual and gynaecological problems.

Both women said they ultimately chose a private healthcare facility because they were unable to get the care they needed through the NHS.

Pattison, who rose to fame on her reality show Geordie Shore, testified before the Women and Equalities Committee last year, telling MPs she felt “stupid and ashamed”.

She was eventually diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), but not before doctors attributed her extreme symptoms in her late 20s, including “crippling anxiety,” insomnia and fatigue, to premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Pattison said: “I was always told the exact same thing: ‘This is PMS. This is what women go through. Every other woman in the world goes through this.’”

She decided to go to a private clinic ‘after feeling ignored and not taken seriously by the NHS’ and said she ‘cursed herself for taking so long’ as she was immediately diagnosed with PMDD.

Presenter and journalist Munchetty, who has been diagnosed with adenomyosis, said her pain was so severe her husband called an ambulance.

She said she had been told since she was 15 to “just accept it” and that “you’re normal” and that “everyone goes through this” — mostly by male doctors who had never had a period and female doctors who had not experienced menstrual pain.

Munchetty added: “No woman says she’s in pain unless she’s really in pain. No woman says she’s anxious unless she’s really anxious. No woman wants to appear weak or incapable until she actually is, until she can’t handle it anymore. And she shouldn’t have to.”