Menopause : What next?

Carolyn Harris MP

Menopause, and its sly younger sister Perimenopause, is the process where us women reach the end of our menstrual cycles. It affects roughly 12 million of us in the UK. The average age we reach the menopause is 51 and women can suffer symptoms ranging from hot flushes to brain fog and reduced libido. In late October 2021, my Private Members Bill (PMB) had its Second Reading. This led to the Government committing to reducing the cost of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) NHS prescriptions in England and the creation of a UK Menopause Taskforce. This success came off the back of months of campaigning from grassroots activists and Davina McCall’s inspiring ‘Sex, Myths and the Menopause’ documentary, and saw hundreds descend on Parliament Square to demand better support for menopausal women from the Government.

And this was just the start. We were getting menopause discussed in public and breaking down the taboo — I even spoke about vaginal dryness in the House of Commons chamber!

Unfortunately, the Government has been sluggish in keeping its end of the bargain. After months of radio silence regarding when the single annual prescription charge would be Implemented, I was informed during a Women and Equalities Select Committee meeting in March that changes would not come until April 2023. This was a blow to progress as it would have given women In England much needed support during the current crippling cost-of-living crisis.

The dithering and delays have caused even greater problems as they have coincided with a severe HRT shortage. The primary product affected by this is Oestrogel, a gel-based product that replaces the Oestrogen in your body and is a used by thousands of women across the country. The shortage has been caused by a lack of foresight from both the company that produces It and the Government, as they failed to react to the inevitable upsurge in demand following the menopause awakening thousands of women went through last summer.

The shortage has turned the lives of many women upside down. Getting the support they deserve was already a post code lottery. With 41% of universities failing to provide mandatory menopause training on their curriculums, it has meant we have a dearth of GPs in this country with the knowledge to properly diagnose and treat something which 51% of the population have been or will go through. This has meant we have a vast geographical and cultural disparity when It comes to accessing proper treatment. For those women who have endured the struggle, either through the NHS or privately, to now have to go through the anxiety and stress of not knowing if they will have their vital medication the following month is unacceptable in 21st century Britain.

In the face of the Government’s delays and the debilitating shortages women were facing, the Menopause movement galvanised itself for yet another battle, in the form of the recently launched Menopause Mandate. Widely supported by clinicians, experts, campaigners, and indeed celebrities, its first objective has been to document the staggering lengths that thousands of women across the country have gone to get access to treatment. We have heard of hundred-mile round trips to countless pharmacies, bottles of Oestrogel bought on online at heavily Inflated prices and multiple women going abroad to buy products over the counter. The shortage has been so bad that the product recommended by practitioners as an alternative to Oestrogel, Sandrena, is now also out of stock in many places. These are not stories of luxury but of desperation. For women this treatment is essential for being able to cope with the brain fog that threatens careers, the drop in libido that puts marriages at risk and the long and diverse list of other symptoms that are leaving women feeling lost, broken and helpless.

In the fight going forward, these issues are just the tip of the iceberg for my ambitions when it comes to the menopause. If a fairy godmother came along and with a swish of her wand resolved the HRT shortage and implemented the single annual prescription charge tomorrow, I would still have a list as long as my arm of issues I want to tackle.

  • I want a national formulary created that would help tackle the post-code lottery of access to HRT and help prevent a future shortage by removing the anomalous geographical disparities between areas.
  • I want to see greater workplace support for women going through the menopause, with employers pledging to be menopause friendly workplaces. We need businesses, of all sizes, to promote a supportive culture where everyone understands the menopause, and to implement bespoke and practical changes that support those experiencing symptoms.
  • I am determined to tackle the postcode lottery of access to sufficient support for those going through the menopause by ensuring that practitioners and medical professionals are adequately trained to spot the symptoms and know how to treat them.
  • And finally, I would like to see testosterone available for women on NHS prescriptions. When women go through the menopause, we become deficient In all three hormones — oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The fact that, at present, only two are replaced through standard HRT treatments Is a real failure In women’s healthcare and Is something that needs to be addressed as a priority.

Our fight to get women’s health and the menopause taken seriously by the Government has only just begun. To me, it is a no-brainer that menopause should be given the respect it deserves within our society. With the proper support women will be able to remain In work longer, relationships will survive, the NHS will save money and women will be kept out of the criminal justice system. I do not believe there is a single area of social policy that the menopause does not touch, and I will not rest until this understanding is ingrained in our society. Watch this space.

Carolyn Harris is the MP for Swansea East

The Fabian Society in Wales

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store