Sajid Javid has said he disagrees with the NHS reportedly removing the word “women” from some of its online guidance, after campaigners criticised the health service for its choice of wording on a webpage about ovarian cancer.
The health secretary said “common sense and the right language” should be used to “give people the best possible patient care”.
However, he acknowledged that “there’s some sensitivity around this language”, and said he would speak to trusts about whether the wording should be changed back.
He told Sky News: “I want to listen to why someone might have taken a different approach – I don’t just want to assume – but I think I’ve made my views clear on this.”
An NHS Digital spokesperson said: “It is not correct to say that there is no mention of women on the ovarian cancer pages. We have updated the pages as part of our routine review of webpages to keep them in line with the best clinical evidence, and make them as helpful as possible to everyone who needs them.”
The word “women” appears on the third page of a section on the NHS.uk website addressing the causes of ovarian cancer, which states: “Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer. This includes women, trans men, non-binary people and intersex people with ovaries.”
The overview on the first page states: “Ovarian cancer affects the two small organs (ovaries) that store the eggs needed to make babies. Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, but it mostly affects those over 50.”
Asked about reports that the NHS had dropped the word “women” from advice pages on its site, Javid said he had not seen them but he had “heard of instances like that”, adding: “I don’t think it’s right.”
He said: “You won’t be surprised to know that as the health secretary I think that your sex matters, your biological sex is incredibly important to make sure you get the right treatment, the very best treatment.”
NHS Digital said it used language that was “inclusive, respectful and relevant to the people reading it”, and there were thousands of pages on the site that were reviewed over time, meaning that some had been updated recently and others had not. Updates are kept under review and monitored for impact.
NHS England said there was no national policy on trans-inclusive language but it was reviewing the wider use of inclusive language to establish how to make this work while keeping language that works for women already.