WA Women In Care Denied Dignity
March 29, 2017
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Western Australian women are being denied access to basic sanitary and hygiene products while in the care of WA hospitals, refuges and mental health units.
Jennifer McGivern, a WA nurse and founder of charity Worthy Australia, told ECU Daily: “I’ve worked in both public and private hospitals across the country and it’s astounded me how limited the supplies of toiletries and sanitary products are.
“In my experience, I would say roughly one in five women I encounter need sanitary and hygiene products supplied to them. If you include older women who need incontinence underwear, it would be more.
“Nurses leave the hospital to get sanitary supplies for patients. If there wasn’t time, which usually there wasn’t, patients had to go without basic hygiene items.”
Worthy Australia is a WA charity which provides displaced and disadvantaged women in WA with hygiene and sanitary products, largely donated by the public.
Jodie Fraser, a midwife of seven years, told ECU Daily many hospitals had a “one packet” policy for all patients, regardless of their circumstances.
“Often women who turn up to the Emergency Department experiencing miscarriages don’t have anything, and the hospitals “one packet policy” applies.
“One packet is ridiculous after miscarriages as women can bleed and spot for four to six weeks.”
In some instances, hospitals were unable to supply any sanitary items for patients.
“I had a miscarriage while I was in RPH and they didn’t provide me with pads, they gave me a pair of incontinence underwear, which is usually for elderly people. It was extremely embarrassing,” said Fraser.
Patients at mental health facilities are disproportionately affected, McGivern said.
“Many patients are admitted involuntarily and haven’t had the chance to bring their toiletries from home. And many are homeless. I’ve seen wards that have one communal bottle of shampoo between a ward of patients.”
Homelessness Australia estimates approximately 4,236 WA women are homeless.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) found that 2.99 million Australians live below the poverty line each year.
ACOSS figures show women are more likely to live in poverty than men, with about 14.7 per cent of all Australian women affected.
Many can not afford sanitary and hygiene products.
“We see women in our shelters and on our streets who have to use old rolled up newspaper as sanitary napkins. We have girls missing a week of school every month because they don’t have access to sanitary products,” said McGivern.
“Hygiene and sanitary items are so often overlooked, but they are so important in maintaining a person’s dignity and self-worth which in turn, are essential to maintain good mental health.
“The government needs to provide funding to shelters, public hospitals, youth and crisis services, as well as mental health clinics, to ensure that at the very least, sanitary products are accessible.”
There is no official framework or process that allows nurses or midwives to keep a record of patients who go without.
“We don’t have any way of documenting how many women come without any supplies but if we do feel the women need extra, we refer them to social workers, but they are only available 9am -4pm,” said Fraser.
Nurses and midwives are currently purchasing sanitary and hygiene items for patients out of their own pocket.
Fraser said “I feel the system is letting women down. Menstrual products are provided in prisons why can we do the same while the women stay in our care?
“I think hospitals cost cut, but in the completely wrong way. I know essentially they are a business, but people deserve the basic right of dignity for the duration of their stay!”
Whilst the problem is country wide, WA hospitals are falling behind other states in providing these items to patients in need.
“There are charities in the eastern states that supply large public hospital emergency departments & ICUs with toiletries, because without them, patients go without. Worthy Australia hopes to supply Perth hospitals that are in need,” said McGivern.
According to McGivern, WA hospitals are not the only facilities in need.
“Our country’s shelters and homelessness services do not receive enough funding to allow for the provision of the most basic of hygiene and sanitary items. Without charities, such as Worthy, they would go without,” she said.
Currently, sanitary and hygiene products are classed as “unnecessary items” by the federal Government.
In 2015 the West Australian government chose not to lift the “luxury tax” on tampons and sanitary items.
Condoms, lubricants and nicotine patches are exempt, as they are deemed to be “imperative to good health.”
It is yet to be seen if the new WA Government will do anything to help make sanitary items more affordable.
For more information on Worthy Australia head to www.worthyaustralia.org