We must do more to improve support for menopausal women
The menopause is something that every woman will experience at some point in her lifetime. When and how we experience it is unique to each of us. For some it will be a simple transition with relatively few side effects. For others the symptoms will be extreme – physically painful, mentally challenging and at their peak, completely life changing.
It is estimated that at the current time there are 13 million women in the UK who are either perimenopausal or menopausal – that is almost a fifth of the entire population. And it’s not just women experiencing symptoms that are affected – the indirect impact on husbands, partners, children, friends, and colleagues means that this really is an issue that we all need to be taking seriously.
It does feel like we have started to break the taboo that has always surrounded the menopause. Women are beginning to share their stories and talk about their experiences but talking is just the first hurdle – now we need action.
Women are often misdiagnosed – referred for tests for early onset dementia and osteoporosis or sent away with antidepressants
Later this month, my Menopause (Support and Services) Private Members Bill has its Second Reading. It aims, amongst other things, to secure NHS prescription charge exemption for HRT products in England (Wales and Scotland already offer free prescriptions). This would bring HRT in line with other hormone treatments which are already exempt and would ease the financial strain on women, many of whom need both oestrogen and progesterone meaning the cost is double.
As well as this, there are other areas of menopause support where we are falling short and failing women. Training for GPs is woefully lacking, with 41 per cent of medical schools offering no mandatory menopause training at all. It is therefore no surprise that women are often being misdiagnosed – referred for tests for early onset dementia and osteoporosis or sent away with antidepressants for their anxiety and depression and sleeping tablets for their insomnia.
Curriculum content in schools needs to be reviewed too so that the next generation of girls, and boys, are educated and prepared for this stage of their lives. And workplace support needs to be addressed so that women aren’t forced to leave their careers because they are struggling to cope with their symptoms.
There is a lot of good practice out there, notably Timpsons who announced recently that they would be allowing staff to claim back their HRT prescription charges on expenses. It is fantastic to see this kind of care for employees’ welfare, but we need this to be the norm not the exception.
If we can start to bring all the pieces together, the future looks much brighter for our daughters and their daughters after that. By the time they begin to experience symptoms of the perimenopause or menopause, I truly believe the stigma that we have faced for generations will have lifted.
October is World Menopause Month and over the last few years, I have duly stood up and spoken in the annual debate to celebrate this. I have called for all the same things that I am calling for now, but the difference is that this year, it feels like we are actually making progress.
The Menopause Revolution has begun. We have started the charge that will change the future for those experiencing symptoms. It’s what women want and it’s what they deserve. It feels like suddenly everyone is talking about the menopause, sharing knowledge, and proudly telling their stories.
Now we need to take that one step further – we need to educate; we need to improve support services and we need to ensure that women are given the help they need in every aspect of their lives.
Carolyn Harris is the Labour MP for Swansea East.
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