Interview with Alison
What drove you to dedicating your entire career to improving women’s health services?
I believe strongly in informed choice, and I feel that can only result from adequate provision of information to women and their families. I also genuinely enjoy talking to women about womens’ issues. I have been involved in the NHS London maternity services improvement board and maternity project, and was co-chair of the user engagement group, leading in the production of a document ‘what women want’. This project is now in implementation phase. It’s something very important to me. My interest are not only within the UK. I have a wider interest in improving health care provision for women worldwide. To this end, in my role as Vice President, I am closely involved in a variety of international projects in Africa, India and Indonesia
“Women do sometimes prefer to come to a female doctor, and it's reassuring for them that we can offer them that option.”
What have been your most rewarding moments in caring for women?
I spent a year in India co-ordinating a safe motherhood project in rural areas. I worked in the slums of Calcutta with inspirational people, not least of whom Mother Teresa. I have worked with HIV in pregnancy in Rumania. Recently I have lectured and run workshops on reducing Maternal Mortality in Myanmar. This was extremely rewarding.
I have also co-chaired for the Maternity Services Liason Committee with an inspirational NCT teacher. We worked together to improve womens’ experiences, including stopping asylum seekers being billed for their maternity care, changing the policy on automatic continuous electronic fetal heart monitoring and promoting an active birth rooms with birthing balls. I was privileged to learn a lot about active birth and the natural birthing process from her. Of course delivering babies is always special.
Changing women’s lives with operations for female incontinence. Especially when women then tell me that they can lead normal lives again including things like staying over with family or friends, playing with the kids or ballroom dancing, which their bladder problem has prevented them from doing can also be very rewarding
Do you feel as a female gynaecologist and obstetrician you have more of an affinity with the women that you treat?
Women do sometimes prefer to come to a female gynaecologist or a female obstetrician and it’s reassuring for them that we can offer them that option. I do feel I have an awareness and empathy of what women want, but this can only result from listening, paying attention to detail, and good communication skills. This facilitates careful tailoring of the exact type of operation or treatment to the individual woman. I have a basic qualification in counselling; something I feel is quite important when dealing with personal and intimate issues for women on a daily basis.
I have also worked with women from lots of different cultural backgrounds, both abroad, in India and Pakistan, and in multicultural areas in the UK. I currently look after a lot of women from different cultural backgrounds so I recognise the importance of respect for other cultures.
Your work in NHS London was on the clinical experts panel. What aspects of Obstetrics or Gynaecology do you specialise or have surgical expertise in?
Well I have had comprehensive training in all aspects of womens’ health, but I specialise in pelvic floor surgery and high risk pregnancies. I have lectured, and soon hope to publish in a major journal my own clinical outcome data regarding management of the complications of childbirth (perineal) trauma. Also bladder problems that are associated with childbirth, drugs in pregnancy, domestic violence for which I have received specific training in order to train health professionals to deal with this when disclosed. And female genital mutilation and it’s medical and psychological consequences.
How do you keep your skill level consistent?
As vice President of the Royal College I am involved in national planning and implementation of many aspects of Obstetric and Gynaecological care. I present nationally and internationally on topics as diverse as Maternal Mortality, childbirth trauma, HIV in pregnancy, methods of induction of labour and patient satisfaction following surgery for incontinence. I stay involved with the latest developments in womens’ health and surgery. I also take part in multicentre research.