Sex and Gender

Why is the NHS erasing women?

The NHS might have taken on board the LGBT rainbow for its branding and badges, but it must think critically before assuming the thinking of this particular strand of activism.

Cervical cancer and ovarian cancer only affect women. So why has the NHS been quietly erasing the word ‘women’ from information pages on its official website?

According to the Mail, NHS advice pages on these conditions were edited at the beginning of the year to remove references to the word ‘woman’.

Last year, women seeking information about cervical cancer were told that, ‘cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). It mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45.’ But in 2022, the advice reads, ‘cervical cancer is a cancer that is found anywhere in the cervix, [and] the cervix is the opening between the vagina and the womb (uterus).’

Similarly, women looking for information online were previously told that ‘Ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is one of the most common types of cancer in women.’ Now they are only informed by the health service that ‘Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer’.

The health service’s cancer advice and guidance is extensive, and rightly so. Women concerned about their health need to know about symptoms, causes, tests and treatment, and where to get help and support. But, crucially, they need to know whether or not the guidance applies to them. If this obfuscation of reality was hidden in some obscure academic paper, it might be forgivable – or at least ignorable – but the NHS has a duty of care to a wide audience, not all of whom might know that the information is aimed specifically at women.

Interestingly, the equivalent pages on men’s health have not been edited in the same way. Those searching for information on prostate cancer are told quite simply that, ‘Most cases develop in men aged 50 or older.’ No chances are taken with testicular cancer: the word, ‘men’ appears eight times on one page.

Women’s health, therefore, seems to be an ideological playing field that men’s health is not. In the guidance the word ‘woman’ has generally been culled, with two notable exceptions on another page of the website, which explains that:

  • ‘Anyone with a cervix can get cervical cancer. This includes women, trans men, non-binary people, and intersex people with a cervix.’ and,
  • ‘Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer. This includes women, trans men, non-binary people and intersex people with ovaries.’

But by framing the advice in this way the NHS appears to be re-defining women as a subgroup of people with cervixes or ovaries. How that helps anyone is hard to fathom.

While some women might just roll their eyes at the lunacy on display, the consequences may be profound for some women who speak English as a second language.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of non-binary people – whoever they are and however they might identify – is a political rather than medical distinction. There are two distinct groups of people within this self-defined demographic: those with cervixes and those with prostates. They are not the same, certainly where reproductive health is at stake. The fantasy world of political activists should have no place in medicine, where reality cannot be so easily ignored.

And intersex people must wonder – once again – what any of this has to do with them. In particular, why ‘intersex people with a cervix [or ovaries]’ are somehow not the same as women in the mind of the NHS.

Whoever re-wrote these pages has a powerful impact on the way in which we define men and women. The NHS is a trusted source of information across the country, for both individuals and organisations. When I taught Critical Thinking, I explained to my students how to assess the quality of sources, and the NHS scored highly.

The power exerted by that editor, therefore, is likely to permeate deeper into society than this one piece of guidance. Other people charged with the task of developing information, guidance or health advice will feel justified in relying heavily on the NHS, or even quoting it verbatim. After all, this is the NHS.

Meanwhile slowly – or maybe not so slowly – the word woman is becoming erased. 

Those in the NHS who signed this guidance off, perhaps blissfully unaware of what they were agreeing to, should in my view revise these pages as a matter of urgency. The NHS might have taken on board the LGBT rainbow for its branding and badges, but it must think critically before assuming the thinking of this particular strand of activism. Because where human bodies are concerned, human biology still matters, and we need clear labels to define the two sexes: women and men.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.

* This article was first published by The Spectator on 22 May 2022: Why is the NHS erasing women?

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

11 replies on “Why is the NHS erasing women?”

This erasure of woman from language makes me furious. When we have an illness or disease it may attack only one part of us, but it affects the whole person – body, mind, and emotions. Women are whole people, not just a collection of body parts which belong to females. As you observed, men aren’t subjected to the same indignity of being reduced to less than a whole person.

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Katrina, the most astonishing example of women being erased in the U.S. (that I have seen) came from a female track coach at a university. This particular female track coach was totally thrilled to have trans women on her women’s track team because it meant that their overall race times were improving. This particular female track coach, despite being the coach of the women’s team, apparently felt no loyalty at all to her gender. All that she cared about was that her team was winning more. Now that’s really sick..

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Yes, it’s galling to see women betraying women, but, as a group, women’s integrity and character are no better nor worse than men’s, so we’ve always had that betrayal from some women who are purely looking after their own interests.

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I continue to wonder why “trans insanity” has taken hold like it has in the British Isles. That hasn’t happened in the U.S. In the U.S., no-nonsense conservatives don’t even try to be politically correct, whereas in Britain it seems that political correctness (i.e., appearing tolerant of different kinds of people) is more important. (Of course, the no-nonsense conservatives in the U.S. are often openly racist, and that isn’t good.) In some liberal states in the U.S., women are being erased in one way or another; but even in those states, it is controversial. One good thing about the U.S. is that the vast majority of people are NOT on board with transgender ideology, and are not in any away embarrassed to be opposed to it.

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Well, the ideology has taken hold in liberal bastions — colleges, universities, even grade schools, publishers who don’t want to offend anyone, liberal media, social media. But your average person is not on board. For example, the vast majority of people think that trans women should not be in women’s sports, and I doubt that many people accept the idea that feeling like a woman makes you a real woman. You would be surprised how many people don’t even understand the issues. I come from a pretty smart family, and I had to explain the whole thing to my brother the electrical engineer, and he agreed with me. Actually, he was astonished that anyone might call him a “transphobe” for believing things that are obviously true (like, your gender is determined by your sexual reproductive system).

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I’m not as sure what to think about this. For me, it’s not as clear cut as arguing against legal self-ID without all the checks and balances you described so concisely in your recent submission regarding the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. I think there’s a case to be made that the NHS might at some point have to change its language to fit the cultural changes taking place (whether we accept those as reasonable or not).

You say, “NHS appears to be re-defining women as a subgroup of people with cervixes or ovaries.” But isn’t that the case?

The subject is muddled by the very different conditions (in the philosophical sense) of transsexual or non-binary, intersex, etc. The claim to particular identities (perhaps with the exception of intersex) is, as you say, “political”, and our “political views” appear to be close on this issue, but, just as my politics doesn’t get to demand the kind of government we have, because it’s democratically elected, our “politics” on this matter don’t set the outcome on cultural changes of these kinds. If the culture changes the definition of “man” and “woman” significantly, at some point the NHS and other bodies might have reason to accept that and not swim against the tide, or eventually their descriptions will merely look as anachronistic as when they used the male pronoun for doctors and the female for nurses.

The principle of considering a more extreme example might illustrate this. It is quite feasible that in future actual working sex organs might be implantable in anyone, and thus natal men could indeed have cervixes and ovaries and natal women could have prostates. The example also suggests that, on this count, it’s probably rather early to start rewriting the advice.

It does all seem pretty ludicrous at this stage, but I note that the NHS is distinctly not saying that trans men ARE women (or that non-binary natal men are). They are stating a fact when they say: ‘Anyone with a cervix can get cervical cancer. This includes women, trans men, non-binary people, and intersex people with a cervix.’ Indeed, the statement clearly differentiates “women” from “trans men”, etc., but honours the cultural change in people’s personal way of identifying, however dubious some of those are.


I’m just replying to myself to say my earlier comment was ill-conceived on several points. I was thinking aloud and expecting to have my views modified in discussion, but the tumbleweed was probably a better response. In particular, of course, I’ve conflated “trans men” and “trans women” in the last paragraph.

I do think there’s a grain of truth in there – public services like the NHS are put in an impossible bind by the cultural fallout of trans cracktivism – either stick to the biological facts or (potentially) risk crowds of protesters blocking the entrance to hospitals demanding an end to their “discrimination” and “transphobia”.

I still haven’t educated myself enough about the biology, regarding the question of whether intersex people can be “male” and have female reproductive organs, which is why I contested the idea that women weren’t a “subgroup of people with cervixes or ovaries”.

As you were. 🙂


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