As her 9th clinic opens, Managing Director Emma Soos spoke to BBC Bristol about why The Women’s Health Clinic has been such a success.
By chance, as Emma spoke to presenter John Darvall, the NHS was a hot news topic and Emma was happy to put him straight.
A full transcript can be read after the video below.
Host: What about that great, I’m gonna say it, lie that is said to women about ‘your body can go back, like that once you’ve had a baby’ because magazines say that’s the case. Absolutely, Well, it’s nonsense. Your body changes. It changes as you get older. And of course we’re not just talking about your tummy, we’re talking about down below, too. All sorts of things happen to you as a woman encapsulated perhaps in the basic precept of before you have a child, you wear a bikini; after you have a child, you wear a swimsuit. Well Emma Soos knows all about this, because she’s gone through it herself and she’s set up a number of clinic, a number of clinics to go through this with other women, Emma good morning to you, welcome to the programme.
Emma Soos: Good morning John.
Host: Thank you for joining me this morning. A former nurse in the NHS?
E: Well I’m still a registered nurse, I just don’t work for the NHS now, I’m private…
Host: I have to ask you bearing in mind what the story is today of nurses leaving the NHS. Or indeed EU nurses not coming back to the NHS. You’re opening up a clinic here in Bristol, is the NHS, for your colleagues, are we heading to a bit of a problem here with nurses?
E: Um, not necessarily a problem with nurses, I think service provision and the expectation of patients and what they would like to receive from their healthcare provides is adapting and changing. Attitudes towards health particularly and patients are coming to us much more well informed.
Host: And that I think is part of one of the reasons you’ve set up these women health clinics, I know you’ve got one opening up in Bristol, is that we are well informed but we’re perhaps not as informed as we should be, especially when it comes to those three principal stages of a woman’s life: before having a baby, during having a baby and after having a baby. Cos that’s the sort of the big moment for women isn’t it.
E: mmm, this is it; women constantly transition physically and mentally. We go from being a young woman to being a wife and a mother and then we go on to progress to our older years… and actually we’re living a lot longer now, and we’re expecting to have a better quality of life and easy access to services at times where we’re not quite sure what’s going on in our bodies for all sorts of reasons.
Host: Now one of the interesting things and I’ve been doing a bit of reading on this, and as I mention we did a conversation on this programme only last week about the menopause specifically, that’s not talked about, it’s called the change and hot flushes and everybody does and they want to talk about tit. And its not just a woman’s problem, it’s a relationship problem and it needs to be talked about so that everybody understands what’s going on.
E: Very much so
Host: and the other one of course Emma is what happens when you have a baby…
E: Absolutely, a different kettle of fish altogether
Host: Tell me about you, be honest with me Emma, I’m a dad of 4, so I’ve experienced this from the other side, but what happened to your body when you had a baby?
E: Well nothing untoward that doesn’t happen to many other women. I had two children my first baby was born by a caesarian, and my second baby was a normal vaginal delivery, with some complications that most women would expect with some tears and some damage afterwards. Ummm, some good support from health visitors and doctors and so on but there were some problems that came to the surface and some difficulties in both bedroom and bathroom activities and I sought some help. Happened to see some of the doctors that I used to work with, that’s always good fun and sort of got passed from pillar to post, a gynecologist with his gyne hat on and a urologist with his hat on, what shall we do here, what shall we do with that and… I didn’t really get an answer as to what was the best course of action and felt very much that I was being probed quite a lot with no progress
Host: and you as a former nurse.
Host: So you can imagine what it’s like for women who don’t even have the understanding that you have…
Host: that they have a baby, they have it, they deliver it naturally, whatever that actually means you’re laughing because, you’ve had a baby and I’ve been there, I’ve been there for all 4, whatever that mans and there are consequences that aren’t necessarily bad but they can change what happens down below from going to the loo to having a meaningful and perhaps loving and sexual relationship, and of course if you don’t know what to do about it, you just suffer in silence…
E: This is it. I was very lucky in that I eventually after much foot stomping and temper tantrums got referred to a woman’s physio and they are very few and far between unfortunately in the UK… I managed to get a lady that would listen to what was going on and we sort of explore my problem within an hour rather than the 10 minutes we usually get with our doctors, and we were able to pinpoint what the mechanical problem I was having which was then having psychological effects and actually then we were able to tailor a treatment programme that sort of helped me to get where I was. Now that took me nearly 3 years
Host: 3 years??
E: yeah, backwards and forwards, round and round and round and in the end the physio ended up with a very small quick, put me under an… let the other doctors have a look at what was happening while I was asleep and point out what the problem was, and then we had a solution
Host: And that solution, was that relatively easy once you’d identified what the solution was..?
E: Well, the solution was lets wait until it gets bad and then we’ll offer you some surgery because we don’t want to operate on young women, I was only 34 at the time and there’s consequences to operating too early in someone who is in inverted commas fairly functional…
Host: But you weren’t though, were you? Hahahahaha
E: Uh, potentially yes but psychological it is very very difficult and relationships suffer and your own sense of self suffers as well
Host: So you’ve gone through this, you’ve had the baby and this will chime with women and men listening right now who have gone through this or who have children going through this… that that big change is the baby, and people go I’m tired I don’t have time for this I don’t have time for that. But actually there maybe other things going on that I just don’t feel comfortable having sex. What’s down there is not what I was used to before I had the baby…and that affects not just the women but the relationship and it puts things in a different perspective and there are solutions out there.
E: There are. There are. There’s solutions and there is more than one way to get to where you need to in a journey and the most important thing that we discovered with setting up our clinic is sometimes yes an intervention is necessary but also sometimes just listening to the patient and giving them time and talking is also just as important and as you say, quite rightly, bringing in partners wherever it’s suitable because this is journey that lots of couples go on together…
Host: Let’s taka a pause for a piece of music, Emma stay with us, we’ll have more from you and about what you’re doing in Bristol…
Host: Emma Soos from the women’s health clinic who is setting up her 8th clinic in Bristol. Now, How long have you doing this Emma?
E: Um officially we’ve been open for just short of 2 years now…
Host: And your 8th is going to be in Bristol?
E: it is…
Host: That’s some growth!
E: it is. It’s absolutely blown us away. We started out in Leicester with our first clinic and very very very quickly realised that women needed what we were doing and we’re purely grown based on the need, we have patients travelling to the Leicester clinic from Bristol.
E: it was just let’s take this to the service to them, it’s very quick and easy to set it up now…we recruit nurses from the local area as well which helped massively and it’s just taken us by surprise storm, but it’s what the NHS should be doing In some respects which is responding to the patients need at the time they ask
Host: Now you touch on something there which I think s one of the big fundamental arguments of our day is it not, you look back at what the NHS was set up for in 1947, we look at where we are at 2017, we’re looking at the 60 years of the NHS and whether it’s a national health care system or whether it is a preventative system, now you could say when it was set up, that it was designed to give you could say it was designed to give people who couldn’t afford access to private medical because that’s what it was or local councils did it access to good quality health care but there is also an element Emma of our own responsibility as well isn’t there that we need to be responsible for our own health, or indeed be proactive and empowered as to know what to do when things aren’t working as we were discussing before the crusaders…
E: The majority of the women that come to us are at a loose end, their end, they’ve tried the traditional methods to get someone to help them. A 10-minute appointment when you’re looking at something like sexuality, or vaginal issues or the menopause are, 10 minutes, you don’t scratch the surface
Host: There’s your problem isn’t it, GPs don’t have the time
E: And some don’t necessarily have the knowledge to be able to support that patient
Host: Oh is that a, you can’t expect a GP to know everything can you because they are the gatekeepers of the health service, they’re not gods, they cant know everything, is that an observation that perhaps it isn’t about seeing a doctor its about having a well informed midwife or practice nurse who can perhaps address these things as you are having to address now, as your growth clearly indicates…
E: Oh potentially, if you look at the nurses that work for us. We recruit from a wide variety of backgrounds. Majority of the nurses that work for us have jobs elsewhere, so some of them are NHS midwives, some of them are practice nurses, some of them are sexual health specialists, and they all bring something to the table so that we’ve got a wide variety of skills within us. So a patient may come with some symptoms and they don’t know quite what they mean. So, Taking your menopause example, a brain fog I’m getting forgetful, they may be given something like an antidepressant from their GP and actually if you dig down a little bit further more than 10 minutes you may find that the periods are irregular that they’re having hot sweats that they’re unable to sleep at night, an we start to have the idea that there may be something more going on.
Host: It’s interesting you touch on that, because this is what’s known in the medical trade if I’m right, as a history isn’t it. This is where you ask a series of questions and Often you see it in medical dramas oh just go on and treat me and you think well actually no the questions they’re asking are really important because you may be missing something that is absolutely vital to what you’re presenting with.
E: Very much so. We were very very forthright in the very beginning that if you to ring the 0800 number for our company, you speak to a nurse, you don’t speak a salesperson. So initially from the get go you’ve got a dialogue with somebody who is on the end of the phone when you need them. Yes we’ve got the NHS helplines and things but sometimes you just want to talk to somebody about something in real time
Host: And the reality is that you’re setting up this business and we’re talking about a private enterprise and I commend you on your growth, but by your own admission you’re doing this on the back of a failure of an institution, not the failure, a failure, of an institution that you yourself have worked for. Do you worry for the NHS that you started in as a nurse, or is it inevitable that there will be this contraction and services like yours will be available to those who can ultimately afford it.
E: I think definitely. We’re certainly starting to see that in the NHS where they’re outsourcing. A lot of people say oh its privatization by stealth. And actually, some of the clinics like ours for example, We’ve got a huge specialist network of people, and it makes sense to refer people to specialists and the strength of what we get is a woman-nurse led service. So we’ve got nurses from a huge variety of backgrounds. Were up to 17 nurses across the network now, and that’s a lot of experience because most of us have been qualified for more than 10 years and more in our field. But also, we’ve been women. We’ve had children. We’ve been that patient as well.
Host: And you’ve been very frank about what you’ve found yourself on the inside as a nurse.
E: Yeah, and the NHS is evolving, its got to evolve based on the patient’s needs.
Host: what do you think is going to happen next because you’re seeing a growth here, you mentioned it as women coming to the end of their journey within the NHS because they’re not getting the answers which you could say is a failure of the current system and they’re finding you and your new clinic will be opening up in Bristol, 8 in 2 years, what do you think the ultimate situation would be is, do you think we’re gonna end up with a core NHS and private healthcare providers like you dealing with specific issues related to specific moments in our health journey our life journey?
E: Potentially. What we don’t want to do is to work separately completely from the NHS. Were not saying to patients come to us and don’t go to see your gynecologist… we want to work hand in hand with patients so they get the best care for their treatment. We’ve done quite a lot of clinical research into what we’re doing and the outcomes we’ve done a lot of surveys with patients and what we’ve picked up in that survey that women don’t feel they’re being heard and that’s the thing with the NHS side of it, they don’t have a voice in terms of women’s help… we’ve got a big push towards you know cancer care and cardiac care and emergency care but although this is something that, we don’t get to opt out of menopause or to opt out of childbirth but its trying to slowly change those attitudes that women do need to be looked at various points in their life when they’re actually well.
Host: and this is the educative process as well isn’t it…
Host: Emma, I’m very grateful for you joining me this morning, it is an interesting evolution, it maybe we need to think in new ways as you clearly have knowledge of how our healthcare is provided. Emma Soos, the new The Women’s Health Clinic will be opening up in Bristol very soon, or is it open now I don’t know?
E: It opened yesterday.
Host: Congratulations! I mean, you know, if I was a dragon I’m in! But I’m not… so I can’t be. Emma good luck to you and all you do. Thank you for joining me this morning.
E: Thank you very much.
Host: Thank you.