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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Amelia Hill

Naga Munchetty: I was failed and gaslit by NHS despite debilitating periods

Naga Munchetty has said she spent decades being failed, gaslit and “never taken seriously” by doctors, despite suffering debilitatingly heavy periods, repeated vomiting and pain so severe that she would lose consciousness.

The BBC presenter, newsreader and journalist told the Commons women and equalities committee on Wednesday that she was “deemed normal” and told to “suck it up” by NHS GPs and doctors during the 35 years she sought help for her symptoms.

Munchetty was finally diagnosed with adenomyosis, a condition where the lining of the womb starts growing into the muscle in its walls, in November last year.

She said she was consistently told by doctors that “everyone goes through this”.

“I was especially told this by male doctors who have never experienced a period but also by female doctors who hadn’t experienced period pain,” said Munchetty.

She said there was a “constant [refrain of]: ‘You’re fine, everyone else is putting up with this, why can’t you?’”

Munchetty’s diagnosis came after she had bled heavily for two weeks and experienced pain so severe she asked her husband to call an ambulance. Only then was she taken seriously, seeing a GP who specialised in women’s reproductive health. That GP advised her to use private healthcare to avoid lengthy NHS waiting lists.

Acknowledging she is “fortunate enough to be able to have private healthcare”, Munchetty said it was the “only time I felt I could sit there and take time and force an issue, force understanding, force explanations from my gynaecologist and not feel bad that I was taking up more than 10 minutes of my GP’s time because there was a queue of people in the waiting room”.

Munchetty and Vicky Pattison, a television and media personality, were giving evidence as part of the committee’s inquiry into the challenges that women face being diagnosed and treated for gynaecological and reproductive conditions.

The committee is also considering any disparities that exist in diagnosis and treatment, and the impact of women’s experiences on their health and lives.

Both women gave detailed evidence of how they struggled to live and work normally over many decades while being repeatedly belittled and failed by medical professionals.

Pattison has only recently been diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Now 35, she said she started experiencing extreme symptoms in her late 20s, including “crippling anxiety”, insomnia and fatigue. Doctors in Newcastle and London put her symptoms down to PMS (premenstrual syndrome).

Munchetty and Pattison agreed that the NHS is failing girls and women. They said GPs, specialists and doctors lack the specialism and training required to recognise and treat gynaecological issues that are devastating the lives of women and girls across the UK.

“When I spoke about adenomyosis on my Radio 5 Live programme, GPs got in touch to say they had never head of the condition, never been taught about it and didn’t know how to diagnose it,” said Munchetty.

Pattison said women’s health is “woefully misunderstood” across the NHS. There is, she added, “so much ignorance surrounding it and a lot of stigma as well, which means women are ashamed to talk about it and this horrible culture is perpetuated”.

Munchetty said: “When women do try to speak about it they get labelled as a troublemakers. It’s really hard for women to win but if the medical profession understood more, then we wouldn’t have to fight as hard and feel like such a nuisance.”

The chair of the committee, Caroline Nokes, promised the committee would eventually issue guidance to NHS and schools to tackle what Munchetty ended the session by summarising as the “woeful misunderstood, ignorance, stigma and shame” surrounding women’s health.

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