Thursday, April 18, 2024

International Women’s Day – An insight into the ECB Women’s Health Strategy

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Photo Credit: ECB

To mark International Women’s Day, Dr Thamindu Wedatilake, Clinical Lead and Women’s Health Strategy Lead and Anna Warren, Head of England Women Science and Medicine, provide an update on the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB’s) industry leading women’s health strategy.

Although women in the UK on average live longer than men, women spend a significantly greater proportion of their lives in ill health and disability when compared with men. Men have historically been treated as the default patient in clinical practice and medical research, and women’s health and healthcare needs have been marginalised.

As mentioned in our previous blog,  female athletes are underrepresented in all areas of medical research and little historic female-specific data is available to inform practice,  and there is even less data if we look at cricket specifically. At the ECB we are determined to address this in our sport.

Traditionally, women’s health has referred to a branch of medicine that focuses on the diseases and conditions that affect a woman’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Here at the ECB we believe a much holistic and broader approach to women’s health is needed.

Rather than limiting our approach to health, our strategy looks at the key areas which we know are important to female cricketers including: availability to play the game without barriers, how to perform and thrive, and in the process develop and grow as people.

To deliver our strategy, our women’s health group was formed in 2021 and involves collaboration between people from different professional backgrounds.

Key to this group are player representatives Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield-Hill who are passionate advocates in this area. In addition, the group consists of medics and sports science and medicine staff from the ECB and our domestic team, ECB leadership, domestic coaches, The Professional Cricketers Association (PCA), and EDI and communications officers. In addition, we have external expert panel members, including Consultant Sports Gynecologist, Michael Dooley.

Our key principle of our strategy is it is shaped by female cricketers for female cricketers. We regularly run player led surveys, player led interviews and scientific research and base our strategy on this information.

One of our initial steps was to establish our key areas of focus.  At the elite level, Beaumont and Winfield-Hill comprised and conducted a player survey where knowledge gaps were identified. These knowledge gaps were also supported by research undertaken by the ECB women’s health group in conjunction with the University of Nottingham, drawing on data from 75 England and regional players. Our of this our key areas of focus were identified: Pelvic health, menstrual cycle, pregnancy and breast health.

We deliver on these key areas through clinical care, education, research, policy writing and data and digital projects.

Clinical care

Annual women’s health screening has been mandatory since 2022 and is conducted by a Sports medicine doctor within our domestic teams and England teams. The regional medical staff have access to education in person and also online to help support them. In addition regional medical staff have 24/7 access to Consultant Sports Gynecologist Michael Dooley​, for any advice or any queries that may arise. Our partner heath care insurance provider Health Partners Europe works closely with us to ensure onward referral to a carefully chosen specialist Women’s health network is accessible for all. All cricketers have an individualised bra fitting service and we now work with sports bra experts Boobydoo, who travel to each regional team to provide this service.

Education

To date, education through women’s health sessions and events aimed at cricketers across all levels and age groups has taken place. One example is the production of education modules for players and coaches as well as more in depth modules for sports science and medical staff working in the game. Videos were created in collaboration with players and staff and aim to educate and empower women’s cricketers on women’s health. These videos are also available on our coach education portal in order to upskill the next generation of cricket coaches in this important area.

What’s more, the educational aspect has been extended internationally. As a part of their 100% Cricket initiative, the ICC conducted Women’s Health Education sessions for the first time at the Women’s U19 T20 World Cup and the Women’s T20 World Cup, both held in South Africa in January and February 2023, with the ECB doctor Pumi Seneratne leading education sessions and material. Our educational videos can also be found on the ICC 100% cricket website.

At grassroots level, the ECB and England Women’s Health Group partnered with the MCC Foundation to create a resource introducing young cricketers, who experience the onset of puberty to the topic of women’s health in cricket and address some of the concerns they may have.

We have also delivered education material to the newly formed pan-disability women’s cricket squad, and future sessions are planned in the summer of 2024.

Research

We currently employ three PHD students relevant to women’s health. Firstly, in collaboration with Bath University, we have a PhD student looking at health protection in women’s cricketers. Furthermore with collaboration with the Bangor University psychology team, we have a women’s cricketers PhD assessing the prevalence of mental health issues in cricket  and levels of social care of our players. Lastly alongside Loughborough University a safety in cricket project is being undertaken for our players.

Data and Digital

As referenced in our International Day of Women and Girls in Science blog last month, over the past year, in collaboration with our regional colleagues, and Microsoft Partner Ascent, we have adopted a fresh data-driven approach to performance management through Insight 360. Overall, this project has a bespoke player app to enter and review data, a future proof data base and bespoke data visualisation tools for practitioners,  enabling us to use data in new and innovative ways, improving our holistic support of our players. Not only is it assisting players and staff to make better decisions to help players, but is also giving us better insight into the women’s game to support future generations of female cricketers. It is also allowing us to consider women’s health in a much broader context including performance.

The ECB Women’s health strategy was rolled out last year across the whole of our England pathway and domestic game and we are so proud that this strategy and all involved in it are helping over 250 cricketers to be healthy, available to play, perform and develop.

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