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Giving women the time to talk: Making menstrual health a priority

Sarah Smith, Surgical Marketing Manager, Hologic UK and Ireland | Hologic

5 min read Partner content

In the second of a series of articles following the publication of Hologic’s report into Heavy Menstrual Bleeding, ‘The right patients, the right setting, the right clinicians’, Sarah Smith reflects on how we can better give women the space to talk about, and receive treatment for, challenging menstrual health conditions.

Listening to women’s experiences

Too often the process of diagnosing and treating Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (HMB) can leave a woman feeling ignored and unheard. Giving women the time to feel listened to by a clinician is a crucial step in improving our diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

With primary care increasingly stretched and short GP appointments making it difficult to discuss complex health issues, there are limited opportunities for women to talk about their menstrual health.

Research commissioned by Hologic found 47% of women who have spoken to a healthcare professional about their experience of HMB did not feel listened to or supported.1 The research also found that receiving a diagnosis took over one year or more for 59% of women, while 32% are self-diagnosed through their own research.1 Eight per cent of women waited 10 years or more for their diagnosis.1

These results reinforce that this is an issue which must be addressed. That is why Hologic, working with experts from across the continuum of menstrual healthcare, has developed a report, ‘The right patients, the right setting, the right clinicians’, to explore what needs to be done to improve patient pathways for HMB.

A crucial step to improving these pathways is giving women the space to talk to a clinician about their experiences, in an environment and setting that suits their needs. When they do receive a diagnosis, we must then ensure that women are provided with the full range of treatment options available, so that they can select one that best meets their individual needs.

Giving women the opportunity to talk about their periods

Hologic reportHologic’s research found 20% of women believe that a barrier to getting support for their HMB diagnosis was the belief that health care professionals do not listen.1 The women’s health hub model, which brings together a range of women’s health services, is one way of overcoming this. Engaging women in their local communities through these hubs can provide a more welcoming and accessible point of care.

Hologic welcomed the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy’s aim to expand the use of women’s health hubs. Providing more convenient, culturally sensitive and female-focused settings for appointments about menstrual health is vital.

Beyond Women’s Health Hubs, we can also make the most of opportunities offered by appointments for other gynaecological procedures and consultations, to ensure women have the opportunity to talk about their periods.

The NHS should also explore the potential for including a ‘screening’ process for heavy menstrual bleeding in the routine set of checks and questions when a woman attends a GP surgery for, as an example, cervical cancer screening.

Asking the simple, standardised question, “Do your periods ever stop you from doing anything?” can be the catalyst for a woman seeking additional support or being directed to the right resources. A small change such as this can also help clinicians do more without it being an additional burden, at a time where they are already stretched. It will also normalise the conversation and help to educate about what is, and crucially isn’t, a ‘typical’ period.

Ensuring women receive the care that best suits their needs

Giving women the space and confidence to seek help for abnormal periods is one aspect of ensuring improved treatment pathways. We also need to make sure that when a woman does receive a diagnosis, she has been enabled to choose the treatment that best suits her needs and lifestyle, which we can do by providing her with the full range of treatment options. This should include the potential benefits and drawbacks of each option.

It is not acceptable for a woman to be told that her only option for treatment is, for example, a hysterectomy, or to simply “grin and bear it”.

Providing women with information about the full range of treatment options at the point of a diagnosis, including those such as endometrial ablation carried out in an outpatient setting, will ensure they are empowered to make a decision that works for them.

Placing women at the heart of clinical decisions

If we truly want to improve care and treatment for Heavy Menstrual Bleeding, we need to ensure that women’s needs are placed at the heart of the process. That begins with providing an accessible and welcoming environment for a woman to seek help, through the expansion of women’s health hubs, and creating opportunities to engage women around their menstrual health.

Once a diagnosis is made, it is only right that women are provided with the full range of treatment options, so that their needs are considered as part of their patient led care pathway.

‘The right patients, the right setting, the right clinicians’, Hologic’s report on HMB, provides a series of recommendations about how to improve education around healthy menstruation, diagnose HMB, and improve patient treatment pathways for the condition. The full report can be read here.

[1] All data cited in this paper relates to a survey of 2,000 UK women aged 18 – 55 plus top up 1,000 UK women who have heavy menstrual bleeding conducted by Opinium on behalf of Hologic from 20 to 27 October 2022. MISC-08708-GBR-EN Rev 001.

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