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27th June 2024

Faculty: How clinician Helen Munro is shaping women’s health policies in Wales

Meet Dr Helen Munro, an esteemed consultant specialising in sexual and reproductive care, based at Hywel Dda University Health Board, whose research contributions are improving healthcare policy and practice in Wales and beyond.

Dr Helen Munro’s involvement with the Health and Care Research Wales Faculty, has provided her with protected time and support from experts to start and enhance her research practice. This support was key in her becoming Wales’ first clinical lead for women’s health where Helen will advocate for women’s health research to remain a top priority in research.

“The Research Time Award allows me protected time to pursue my research interests outside my clinical work, and being a Faculty member brings access to academic networks and colleagues that have enabled, supported and inspired me.”

Early career

Inspired by her father’s dedicated service as a district nurse in North Yorkshire, Helen studied medicine at Dundee University in Scotland. Her passion for serving the community led her to choose a primary care clinical route to keep making a difference in people’s lives and eventually volunteering abroad where she worked in Africa for a year. Upon returning from Africa, Helen decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health in London before ultimately settling in southwest Wales.

NHS Research Time Award

It was in Wales where she found a perfect cross between clinical community care and her growing interest in research thanks to a Health and Care Research Wales’s  Research Time Award (RTA).

Receiving an RTA, aimed at building research capacity within NHS Wales, gave Helen the opportunity to engage in research projects thanks to the protected time.

“The RTA also allowed me to connect with experts in the field of research and further expand my network, opening doors to opportunities to start my own research projects regarding women’s health.”

Reproductive Health Policy Research Unit

Focusing on women’s health, Helen is involved with the Reproductive Health Policy Research Unit (PRU), based at University College London. The PRUs, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), aim to provide high-quality evidence-based research to inform decisions about reproductive health. Dr Munro said:

“Women’s health research is more critical than ever – we need to understand how sex and gender impact differently on various disease and ill-health, in order to make changes and improve the lives of 51% of the population.”

“Policymakers, patients and the public are coming together to drive meaningful progress and improve women’s health as well as address the pressing issues facing women today.”

The CONNECT study

Helen is a co-applicant for another project called the CONNECT study which explores the benefits surrounding the introduction of remote consultations in sexual and reproductive health services during COVID-19. Her role in involve co-developing recommendations for inclusive and patient-led consultations and leading data collection efforts from a Wales perspective.

HPV self-sampling tool

Helen has also participated in the Bevan Exemplar Programme looking at ways to understand and facilitate patient choice regarding HPV self-sampling at home.

“Our survey found that 64% of the eligible population, if given a choice, would prefer HPV self-sampling to in-person testing. Introduction of HPV self-sampling has the potential to create time savings for patients and has the potential to lead to an improvement in health outcomes for those patients who would otherwise not have been screened.”

“The key thing is that women have choice and are properly informed and equipped to make that choice,” said Dr Munro.

Wales’ first ever clinical lead for women’s health

On International Women’s Day 2024, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Eluned Morgan appointed Dr Helen Monro as new clinical lead to help drive improvements in women’s health services across Wales. She will lead the National Clinical Strategic Network for Women’s Health in developing the Women’s Health Plan for Wales alongside Alex Hicks, the new strategic network manager.

Helen is committed to advancing women’s health research, ensuring it remains a top priority on the agenda of practitioners, researchers and policymakers alike.

Explore Health and Care Research Wales Faculty pages to find out the right funding opportunities or awards for you and kickstart your research journey.