Removing family doctors from the popular well used community health centre next to Cowgate estate could widen the gender health divide.

According to figures produced by Public Health England and the Newcastle Clinical Commissioning Group one half of the patients using the GP primary care services are working- class women from Cowgate, Blakelaw, Kenton and Fenham. Over a third are deprived living on low incomes, yet eight of 10 patients surveyed found that primary care delivered by the centre was ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

Life expectancy for women living in this disadvantaged part of Newcastle is 10 per cent lower than for women living in more affluent neighbourhoods like Jesmond. Jesmond and nearby leafy Gosforth has an abundance of family doctors. The number of doctors per 1,000 people is much higher than average when compared to the more deprived parts of the city.

Shockingly, 96% of 0-15 year olds, in south Cowgate are in poverty living ‘’in income deprived households, too often headed by women aged 16 to 44. The area has one of the highest teenage birth rates in the North East at 7%.

Working-class women are less healthy than men even though they outlive men by eight years. Compared to men, women go to the doctor about 50% more often than men between the ages of 15 to 64. They report more head and stomach aches, high blood pressure and weight problems. Women are more likely to visit doctors about conditions like insomnia and depression and more likely to receive prescriptions for sleeping pills and anti-depressants.

There is a number of reasons why working-class women suffer more sickness than men. One, of-course, is stress. Many women suffer a ‘’triple burden’’ of being low-paid workers, carrying responsibilities for housework and child care while managing family emotions. In too many cases workless west-end households are having to struggle with limited budgets with pressures to make ends meet, and working long days with little time to relax. It’s little wonder that six out of ten smoke even though they know the damage that cigarettes are doing to their health.

Women are more likely to experience relative poverty than men. Poverty has become ‘’feminised’; partly because nine out 10 women are lone parents, and because they outlive men while being less likely to have good work-based pensions or savings for old age. In low income Tyneside households it’s usually women who go without to make sure that other family members get enough to eat.

Other writers have pointed to domestic labour or housework. It’s rarely fulfilling. Research by the medical sociologist Ann Oakley notes that clinical depression is linked to the unpaid, repetitive, unrewarding and the low status of housework in a society where only paid work is respected.

Women are brought up to express their feelings and talk over problems than men. Since women are the ones who ‘manage’ family health issues, they’re often more aware of care matters. They’re more prepared to than men to report physical or mental ill-health. While women go to the doctors for prescribed medication, too many men opt for alcohol. Men’s higher death rates may simply be because they bottle everything up till it’s too late!

Although there are more women doctors than ever before, the medical profession at the top is still ‘’patriarchal’ – male dominated, says the health academic Hillary Graham. Pregnancy and childbirth is still seen as a medical problem, rather than a natural process. Births may be induced and babies delivered by caesarean operations at times to suit the working hours of surgeons rather than the needs of mothers and their babies.

A survey by Mother and Baby magazine in 2015 found that just four out 10 of the 96 per cent of expectant mothers giving birth in hospital had the same midwife throughout their labour, and half described their postnatal care as ‘’not kind’’.

Feminist writers have noted that the decision-making bodies when it comes to allocating resources are monopolised by middle class white men many without a nursing or medical background. The Newcastle Clinical Commissioning Group’s committee and Executive is made up of mostly men. Of the 18 members of the committee only six are women while its’s senior management has only three female members.

With women being the main consumers of health care both in the community and in hospital the time is now for regional NHS Trusts and related CCGs to be modernised to better reflect the needs of women.

If there were more women on the Board – the Newcastle CCG may think twice about removing GP practices from both Ponteland Road and elsewhere in our region.