Support for women going through the menopause is “completely inadequate”, according to a parliamentary report published today.
The report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Menopause finds that an “entrenched taboo” around women’s health issues has prevented adequate support being provided for the 13 million women currently going through peri-menopause or menopause in the UK.
“Change is vital, and we urge the new minister and government to give the menopause the attention it is due”
The group of MPs has now called on the government to take action to get rid of the “stark divide” between those who can afford hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and those who cannot.
Barriers to adequate support for women going through the menopause include difficulties getting the right diagnosis at the right time, and a lack of access to HRT.
A lack of support from employers, and a generally poor understanding of the effects of the menopause also contribute to poor menopause management, according to the report.
Earlier this year, Jacqui McBurnie, chair of the NHS England and NHS Improvement Menopause Group and a nurse by background, warned of the “gap” in workplace support and awareness for health professionals managing symptoms of the menopause.
Meanwhile, in the summer, chief nursing officer for England, Dame Ruth May, stressed it was “essential” that nurses and colleagues experiencing the menopause are supported at work and that open conversations on the subject are encouraged.
Dame Ruth also announced that NHS England had signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge, led by the charity Wellbeing of Women, to make sure staff “feel comfortable, confident and supported as they approach and experience the menopause”.
A representative from the Royal College of Nursing’s women’s health forum has said that many nurses stand to benefit from the recommendations outlined in today’s report and that there was a “huge opportunity” for nurses to take the lead in providing much of the menopause care recommended.
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Of particular concern highlighted in the report was the inequality in access to HRT in the UK, with HRT available on prescription in some parts of the country, but not others. This has led many women to rely on private prescriptions for HRT, while others have been denied it altogether.
The report recommends a national formulary for HRT should be created, so that all women in the UK can access the treatment through the NHS.
In addition, the evidence supporting the use of testosterone for menopausal symptoms should be evaluated with a view to licensing it as a treatment for menopause, the report noted.
The report also recommends that prescription costs for HRT in England should be scrapped, moving in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In addition, a health check should be introduced for all women at age 45 to help diagnose menopause at an earlier stage, it said.
The report also calls for a campaign to raise awareness of menopause in the workplace and encourage employers to provide appropriate support to workers affected by symptoms of menopause.
This report follows a House of Commons Committee report in July 2022 which found employers’ lack of support for menopausal symptoms, across all settings and businesses, was pushing women out of work.
Carolyn Harris, chair of the APPG on menopause, said: “Access to HRT remains a postcode lottery for women in the UK and there is a stark divide between those who can afford to seek treatment elsewhere, and those who cannot.”
She added that the consequences for those suffering with menopause symptoms who cannot get the right treatment can be severe and that the women’s health strategy for England, published earlier this year, failed to address the multiple issues that women in the UK are facing.
“Change is vital, and we urge the new minister and government to give the menopause the attention it is due and take forward the recommendations in our report for the sake of women across the country,” Ms Harris said.
Debby Holloway, a gynaecology nurse consultant and member of the Royal College of Nursing women’s health forum, told Nursing Times that the report highlighted problems that nurses working with women going through menopause were already familiar with, and welcomed many of its recommendations.
In particular, she welcomed the recommendation for a national formulary of HRT and said: “A national formulary for HRT would solve the current difficulty facing clinicians who want to prescribe HRT to women living in areas where it is not allowed.”
She also welcomed the recommendation that testosterone treatment should be licensed for treatment of menopausal symptoms.
Ms Holloway said that many nurses stood to benefit from the report’s recommendations for menopause in the workplace.
She added that there was a “huge opportunity” for nurses to take the lead in providing much of the menopause care recommended in the report, such as carrying out mid-life checks, and also prescribing HRT.
“There should be a greater role for nurses in the clinical management of menopause,” she said.
In response to the report, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson, said: “We have put women’s health at the top of the agenda by publishing a women’s health strategy for England, appointing the first-ever women’s health ambassador, and taking action to increase supply and reduce the cost of HRT.
“We have accepted the recommendations of the HRT supply taskforce, including the continued use of serious shortage protocols when appropriate to manage shortages and further exploration of NHS formularies.”