Taking action: Driving better menstrual health outcomes for women
Acknowledging the impact of heavy menstrual bleeding
Too often women are left to deal with menstrual health issues without adequate support, and are told their experiences are ‘normal’ and something they, unfortunately, have to put up with. This is all too relevant for women who experience heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB).
Research commissioned by Hologic found that 28% of women with HMB said it impacted their mental health, while 32% reported being less productive at work.1 The research also found 29% did not leave the house and 45% of women with HMB stop daily activities.1
Sarah Smith, Surgical Communications Manager for Hologic UK and Ireland, told PoliticsHome that the barriers to addressing HMB often stem from a reluctance to talk openly about the problem. It is an issue highlighted by Hologic’s report on HMB, ‘The right patients, the right setting, the right clinicians’.
“Every day, across the country, women and girls struggle to manage menstrual health conditions that impact their ability to study, work, manage family life, and enjoy leisure activities,” she tells us. “And yet, many of these conditions remain hidden; taboo subjects rarely discussed, with women expected to ‘just get on with it’.”
Chair of the Women’s Health APPG, Cherilyn Mackrory MP, shares Smith’s view that women’s concerns have been ignored for too long. However, she is optimistic that menstrual health is increasingly high on the policy agenda.
“The publication of the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy last year shows that they are taking gynaecological issues seriously,” she explains to PoliticsHome. “As part of the strategy we expect Women’s Health Hubs to start being rolled out and that greater education and training on women-specific health issues will start to normalise these conversations.”
A wake-up call on HMB
Taiwo Owatemi MP, who sits on the Health and Social Care Select Committee, believes Hologic’s research should be a wake-up call that HMB must be taken more seriously by healthcare professionals.
“For far too long, period health and HMB have been side-lined and put on the back burner of women’s health concerns,” she tells us. “This issue, which impacts countless women up and down the country, must finally be given the attention and resources required.”
One challenge Hologic’s report highlights is a lack of consistency when it comes to the services and support that women can access to initially diagnose the underlying causes of HMB and then to receive treatment
Labour MP, Peter Dowd, is also concerned that getting an accurate diagnosis often depends on the facilities available locally. He told PoliticsHome that a lack of standardisation across the NHS results in some women missing out on the care that they need.
“The worrying reality is that where women live determines the sorts of treatments and diagnostic technologies they can access,” Dowd tells us. “This is resulting in a ‘postcode lottery’ for patients, particularly in outpatient settings. Where you live should never determine the care that you receive, especially on an issue that is impacting so many lives.”
Words matter – reclassifying HMB to a chronic condition
The debilitating impact of HMB is something that Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, has experienced at first-hand.
"I have personally suffered from HMB for nearly 20 years, and have experienced a variety of treatments,” she tells PoliticsHome. “I agree that this condition can be disabling and should be classed as chronic; I often find myself unable to leave the house on account of the physical and mental toll it puts upon me.”
Hodgson’s call for the condition to be reclassified is echoed by Hologic’s report. Currently, when a woman is diagnosed with HMB she is placed on a ‘benign’ treatment pathway. This does not adequately reflect the impact on the lives of the women with it, or the urgent need to act and ensure they receive treatment.
The report recommends that the pathway should be renamed to ‘chronic disabling’, to ensure the potential severity and the experiences of women are properly recognised.
Streamlining treatment to tackle the backlog
Of course, recognising the impact of HMB and having the condition diagnosed, is just one challenge on the treatment pathway. The other is ensuring that once diagnosed, women are provided with care quickly and in a way that is convenient for them.
It is a concerning fact that more than half a million women in the UK are on waiting lists for gynaecological appointments, with 12% of all referrals being for heavy periods or menstrual problems.
Taiwo Owatemi MP would like to see much more consistency when it comes to treatment, particularly in the context of responding to the post-Covid backlog.
“If the Government is serious about solving these deep-rooted issues, it must find ways to alleviate the pressure,” she tells PoliticsHome. “A good start would be ensuring every hospital in the UK can offer outpatients ‘see and treat’ hysteroscopies and treatments for heavy menstrual bleeding – helping to free up much-needed hospital space.”
Hologic’s Sarah Smith supports the call for a streamlined approach, but emphasises that when it comes to HMB, there is no single problem and therefore no single solution.
“This is about skills, capacity, technology and awareness,” she explains. “It is only through a truly coordinated approach which addresses the range of issues that we can address HMB in a way that delivers quality patient centric care.”
The right patients, the right setting, the right clinicians
‘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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