BBC broadcaster Naga Munchetty has told MPs her diagnosis of adenomyosis – where the womb’s lining grows into its muscular walls – came decades after doctors dismissed her symptoms and told her to “suck it up” despite suffering from heavy periods, repeated vomiting and incapacitating pain.
In her testimony before the Commons women and equalities committee on Wednesday (18), Munchetty said though she sought help for her condition for more than 35 years, she was consistently told by NHS GPs that her symptoms were considered “normal”.
Munchetty, 38, told MPs her diagnosis was made only in November 2022.
She experienced two weeks of heavy bleeding and excruciating pain, prompting her to call an ambulance. A GP specialising in women’s reproductive health suggested Munchetty seek private healthcare to avoid long NHS waiting lists.
Describing her experience, Munchetty revealed that she had been enduring distressing symptoms, such as severe pain and heavy menstrual bleeding, since her teenage.
She told the committee that her husband had to call an ambulance on one occasion due to the intensity of her pain.
During these years, doctors repeatedly told her that these symptoms were common for everyone.
What struck her most was that she heard this reassurance not only from male doctors, who had never personally encountered the challenges of menstruation, but also from female doctors who lacked firsthand experience in dealing with period-related pain.
Consequently, she found herself in a continuous situation where she felt compelled to wear dark, loose dress during her menstrual cycle and had to inform her superiors in advance when she needed to use the restroom.
Acknowledging that she was “privileged” to have access to private healthcare, Munchetty said this was the only time she felt she could demand understanding and explanations from her gynaecologist without feeling guilty about taking up too much of her GP’s time due to a crowded waiting room.
Vicky Pattison, a television and media personality, also testified before the committee on Wednesday.
The committee is also examining any disparities in diagnosis and treatment and how women’s experiences affect their health and lives.
Both women provided detailed accounts of their struggles to lead normal lives while repeatedly being belittled and let down by medical professionals over many decades.
They agreed that the NHS was “failing” women and girls, as GPs, specialists, and doctors lack the necessary expertise and training to recognise and address gynaecological issues that affect women and girls.
Munchetty recalled that when she discussed adenomyosis on her Radio 5 Live programme, GPs reached out to her, revealing they had not heard of the condition, were not taught about it, and did not know how to diagnose it.
Munchetty added, “When women do try to speak about it, they get labelled as 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.”
Pattison said women’s health was “woefully misunderstood” across the NHS, with a great deal of ignorance and stigma, which results in women being reluctant to talk about it and perpetuates a harmful culture.
Committee chair Caroline Nokes said the committee would eventually provide guidance to the NHS and schools to address what Munchetty summarised as the “woeful misunderstanding, ignorance, stigma, and shame” surrounding women’s health.