There are many advantages to living in the Netherlands, but one to consider is its approach to women’s healthcare. The Euro health consumer index, which compares healthcare systems in Europe, consistently scores the Netherlands as the only country that has been in the top three ranking published since 2005.
This is good news for women, who according to Statista, made up the majority of the population in 2019. I wanted to know more about women’s healthcare in the Netherlands. So I spoke to a native Dutch woman who has also lived abroad. How does the system measure up in her opinion?
The RIVM is crucial for women’s healthcare
The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and Centre for Population Screening (CvB) is crucial for women’s healthcare in the Netherlands because it directs, manages and coordinates the national population screening programs for a variety of women-centric issues: bowel cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, Down’s syndrome screening, the 20-week ultrasound, newborn hearing screening, pregnancy blood screening and the heel prick program.
These screenings allow health care providers to do their jobs as effectively as possible. The center also provides clear public information. Additionally, the CvB is responsible for the Dutch national influenza prevention program, and coordinates all the programs on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS), where you can download a pdf in English.
These programs and screenings are free. Around 800,000 Dutch women receive invitations to attend a screening each year. Every woman between the ages of 30 and 60 can have the necessary tests, if they so choose. This could be quite distinct from the guidelines in your home country.
Since 2016, women aged 30 and over have received invitations to attend a screening for the presence of hr-HPV virus, which can cause cervical cancer. The General Practitioner (GP) performs these every five years and mammogram screenings are performed every two years.
Notable for women in the Netherlands
Women widely use contraception, which is legal but birth control pills require a prescription. Your GP can provide this and also discuss your personal preferences. It is also possible to purchase emergency contraception without a prescription, including ellaONe, considered the most effective ‘morning after’ pill on the market according to Gynopedia. The Netherlands legalized abortions in 1984. Women can request an abortion until week 21 of pregnancy. They are also allowed until week 24 in cases of urgent surgery.
In comparison to the French healthcare system
As Mylene Weima, a Dutch woman who’s lived in Denmark, the Czech Republic, Germany and currently living in France explains, “I think the Dutch healthcare system relies a lot on self awareness/self judgement and on the GP. In the Netherlands they play an important role. Compared to France where the generalist is forwarding patients to the different specialists very quickly, the Dutch GP’s take more responsibility.”
But that doesn’t mean you can hang out in the waiting room and visit your GP for every little complaint. Young women’s visits to a gynecologist could be delayed here because the screenings start from the age of 30. “Usually doctors say: if you have an issue or are in pain for over two weeks, you come and see me. This doesn’t count for emergencies of course,” she says.
Mylene states, “In France you can have a PAP smear every year and a mammogram every two years, covered by the governmental health insurance. Lately I received an invitation for a complete general check up, offered by the French public health care system.”
Regarding Costs and Prescriptions
I can say that after living in North America, Europe and Asia, Asia felt the most like the USA. You can choose private healthcare, including specialists, in a Western standard and our insurance covered all issues. Yearly PAP smears are the norm as well as more frequent mammograms.
We also noted some differences with prescriptions for pain or infections. She says, “when it comes to medication, the Dutch doctors are very reluctant and the French very generous. Medical outlets in the Netherlands usually look well maintained, clean and efficient.” This is a similar attitude we found present in Denmark, where we both lived for a time.
Stay informed and prepared
“I can’t really say which system works better, however I feel that the regular check ups the Dutch healthcare system is offering is very limited and starts quite late,” says Mylene in closing. Here I’ve broken down some takeaways:
- You’ll need insurance. It will be one of the first things that the doctor or dentist will ask you to provide when you make an appointment. As a guide to who, what, how much and where, independer is a good site to consult. It is all in Dutch, however, so get out your translator.
- Establish a relationship with your GP (Huisarts), early on, as they are the gatekeepers to other specialists and will be the doctors to have most of your health information. This is a list of GPs throughout the Netherlands who can be located via proximity to your location.
- You can purchase many items to keep you healthy and happy from the comfort of your home. From condoms and menstruation supplies to feminine hygiene products and sex toys, Dutch openness makes it easier to make your health a priority.
It is refreshing to live where it seems no subject is taboo. But especially where women can feel they are on equal footing. And let’s not forget our own mental well being. During a pandemic, it is more vital than ever to “take care.” As part of the INWG’s response to this, you can connect with other members in planned online virtual events.