An Evaluation of the Women’s Health Network in Bradford

The project aims to evaluate and advise the Women's Health Network in Bradford, a collective of women who strive to improve the health and wellbeing of women and their families through effective partnership working.


Emma Craddock

Research background

It is vital to address increasing women’s health inequalities by establishing effective models of improving women’s health and services. Patient and public involvement/engagement (PPI) with healthcare has been a key focus of NHS policies over the past 20 years. NHS England’s (2017) statutory guidance for clinical commissioning groups emphasises seeking involvement from those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, which includes sex. Yet, there is a lack of research focusing on women’s and disadvantaged groups’ involvement in PPI initiatives.

The Women’s Health Network in Bradford (WHN) is a collective of women living and/or working in Bradford District and Craven, with the mission ‘to improve the health and wellbeing of women and their families through effective partnership working, with a particular focus on seldom heard voices’ (WHN, 2016).

WHN provides a unique research context to evaluate effective and meaningful ways of engaging ‘seldom heard’ women in their healthcare provision and what facilitates and what blocks knowledge transfer between this marginalised group and healthcare practitioners.

Research aims

  • To evaluate the extent to which WHN has been successful in engaging marginalised groups of women.
  • To identify areas in which WHN can improve, leading to impactful practice and policy changes at the local level.
  • To identify what has worked well for WHN in order to learn lessons that can be carried forward in the creation of other local Women’s Health Networks.

The outcomes of this project will directly benefit:

  • The Women’s Health Network
  • Local marginalised women
  • Healthcare practitioners and policy via a public-facing evaluative report.
  • Academic knowledge and understanding via journal publication and conference papers.

Research methods 

Given Covid-19 restrictions, semi-structured interviews were conducted over the telephone with 12 members of WHN, including a Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) Commissioner, the current Chair of WHN, CNet’s Engaging People Project Lead, the previous Chair of WHN, professional and individual members of WHN. Interview guides were distributed to the advisory board for comment, ensuring a robust data collection tool. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis and interpretations were discussed with the project advisory board to ensure trustworthiness.

The project advisory board comprised Laila Ahmed (Engaging People Project Lead) and Masira Hans (Current WHN Chair); Michelle Taylor (previous WHN Chair); Dr Nathan Kerrigan (Lecturer in Sociology, Birmingham City University); Professor Fiona Cowdell (Professor of Nursing and Health Research, BCU; Dr Annalise Weckesser, Senior Research Fellow, CSCHaRR, BCU); Lisa-Marie Taylor (Co-Founder of FiLiA, women-led volunteer organisation with charitable status).

Research outcomes 

Key findings
  • WHN demonstrates the value of addressing women’s health holistically as a community issue utilising an asset-based community development and women-centred approach.
  • WHN creates and sustains a bidirectional channel of communication between the micro (ground) level in communities and the macro (institutional) level of NHS CCGs, acting as a bridge or conduit between CCGs, services, and local women.
  • The affective dimension of WHN is central to its success and sustainability, including the atmosphere of meetings, solidarity, trust, how the network feels to members, members’ passion and pride about WHN, and other intangibles.
  • Funders should therefore allow the time and space required to build strong relationships and recognise qualitative measures of impact, not just quantifiable outcomes.
  • The research identified strengths of the network, barriers to women accessing healthcare, and barriers to participating in WHN (see attached report for details).
Next steps
  • WHN to go out to specific communities post Covid-19 to build relationships and encourage participation of individual women in WHN, particularly seldom heard women.
  • A combination of online and offline engagement post Covid-19 to enhance opportunities for participation.
  • Better publicity of WHN in a range of mediums and forums is required to increase local awareness of WHN.
  • Continued funding is required to sustain WHN.
  • WHN provides a strong model of PPI and knowledge transfer for replication in other localities, taking into account local demographics, and is eager to create links with other women’s health networks, nationally.

Read the full report here.