A Winning Year for Women's Health

05/12/2012 15:36 GMT | Updated 03/02/2013 10:12 GMT

I went to a delightful Christmas carol service last week. It was held at Saint Bartholomew the Great, one of London's oldest churches. The building was founded in 1123 as an Augustinian Priory and is based in Smithfield, East London.

I had been invited by a fabulous woman I met at everywomen in retail awards event - which just goes to prove networking does work!

The choir were amazing and will be singing services through Advent into Christmas. I cannot recommend them highly enough to anyone who wants to get away from everything stressful in the lead up to Christmas. Listening to their powerful voices was joyous, not a word I frequently use.

The Chief Executive of Penna, a global HR group, read a wonderful poem by Edgar Guest called 'It Couldn't Be Done' which is all about struggling to achieve against the odds.

It seemed an obvious point of reference when I started chatting with two inspiring women from LOCOG after the service. So many people thought the sheer scale and size of the London Olympics were going to be an impossible challenge but the games turned out to be brilliant.

Sadly I'm told, LOCOG is now closing down. Everyone will complete their contract and be out of a job in the coming weeks. For many of LOCOG's younger employees this was a once-in-a-lifetime job.

This dichotomy poses interesting questions for young people at the beginning of their career who are lucky enough to work in a really inspiring environment on a really exciting but finite project. How on earth do they choose their next job?

Basically, LOGCOG is the story of some really determined people who created something really special that impacted on countless lives in such a positive way.

I hope we share that ambition at Wellbeing of Women. We have a core team supported by a much larger group of enthusiastic supporters and doctors who work together to create changes in women's health.

Reflecting on 2012, I am immensely proud that three of our supported researchers have been appointed to personal Chairs (in other words, given the title of professor due to their exceptional work) at their universities.

It's a massive accolade for the Wellbeing team and certainly demonstrates that we are putting our money into the right places.

In addition this year we have published the results of scientific work which have led amendments to the NICE guidelines regarding caesarean and uterine rupture.

Our study at Oxford University found that women who had undergone a previous caesarean are at a greater risk of womb rupture during a subsequent natural birth than those who have a repeat caesarean. The risk increases with each subsequent caesarean.

Another Wellbeing study published this year demonstrated that Botox is a viable treatment for women with overactive bladder syndrome (OAB). The condition affects one in five women aged 40 plus. Our research team at the University of Leicester found that by making several injections in a patients' bladder muscle they could prevent it from contracting too much, thus saving women from the trauma of urinary incontinence.

This year also saw one of our top researchers, Priya Agrawal, being appointed Executive Director of Merck for Mothers, a pharmaceutical company with a half-billion pound international programme to reduce the number of women and children who die during pregnancy. Here in the UK, my team and I are pleased that we are developing a relationship to work with Merck. She has also been awarded the 2012 Emerging Public Health Professional Award by the prestigious Harvard School of Public Health.

To round off a busy year, Wellbeing of Women held a 'pregnancy and birth' panel discussion featuring four of the most eminent British professors working in the field of pregnancy and neonatology. They had never appeared on the same panel before and their various viewpoints made for a fascinating discussion.

They engaged our audience of supporters, saying what improvements had been made during their careers - and then were all very clear about what they felt needed to be done next to make a substantial difference to number of babies who are born too soon or die.

We were told that maternal health can have huge, life-changing impact on babies' health. For instance, obesity during pregnancy increases the unborn child's risk of developing diabetes or being born premature. The anxiety levels of a mother can also transfer to the baby making them more likely to be anxious babies and potentially grow up anxious adults.

Findings would also suggest that women who suffer post-natal depression (which can it itself be life threatening) tend to have a history of the depression. They could therefore be monitored and supported more carefully during pregnancy and after giving birth.

Another point of interest was that today's mothers are terrified of childbirth because they allegedly see or read horror stories in the media. Downton Abbey has a lot to answer for!

More importantly, our experts all admitted that when they started in their careers they were not encouraged to listen to mothers-to-be. Instead, they told them how things were done. So it's encouraging to see doctors and midwives all agreeing that a key driver in their work today is asking what expectant parents feel is best for them so that they can have a safe, happy and healthy birth.

However, what all of the panel agreed was the impact that Wellbeing of Women had made improving women's health during each of their careers. I felt proud that even though we are quite a small number of people we have been able to save or improve thousands of women's lives.