‘Disrupt and destroy day to day lives’: Menopausal women forced to fork out thousands of pounds for treatment

‘We have to make sure women can reap life-changing benefits of HRT during their menopause which is a very difficult time physically and psychologically,’ says Labour MP

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Monday 06 September 2021 22:25 BST
Almost half of women going through the menopause say they are left with no option but to seek private healthcare
Almost half of women going through the menopause say they are left with no option but to seek private healthcare (Getty)

Women going through the menopause face medical bills amounting to thousands of pounds after being forced to pay for hormone replacement therapy, campaigners have warned.

Many of the 3.4 million women aged between 50 and 64 in the UK will be experiencing symptoms of the menopause – with side effects ranging from heart palpitations to hot flushes, vaginal pain, anxiety and depression.

The Ginsburg Women’s Health Board unveiled a campaign on Monday urging the government to provide women with the “life-changing” treatment for free - noting hormone replacement therapy, which alleviates symptoms of the menopause, is free in Scotland and Wales, yet not in England.

It comes after The Independent recently reported almost half of women going through the menopause said they were left with no option but to seek private healthcare.

The research from the Menopause Support Network, which was shared exclusively, found 48 per cent of just over 600 women polled said they had been forced to go private. Healthcare providers have warned that menopausal women were resorting to private treatment due to failing to get proper support or correct prescriptions from NHS doctors.

Dr Geeta Nargund, co-founder of Ginsburg Women’s Health Board, an organisation campaigning to close the gender health gap, said: “Having run a specialist menopause and HRT clinic in one of London’s biggest teaching hospitals for 25 years, I’ve personally met countless women suffering not just with menopause symptoms but also the difficulty of how to pay for HRT.

“The pill and pregnancy services are already rightfully provided to women free of charge and, as a significant and considerable stage of every woman’s life, there is no reason that the menopause should be any different – this is a case of basic women’s health rights.”

Dr Nargund, a senior NHS consultant who is medical director of Create Fertility, an IVF clinic, argued making hormone replacement therapy free would profoundly boost “women’s quality of life, not just prolonging it” - adding that this would benefit “families, the state and wider society”.

Menopausal women are at risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis but hormone replacement therapy has been proven to stop these illnesses. Many women are recommended by health professionals to take hormone replacement therapy for over five years, or even longer to alleviate long-term medical conditions, with treatments sometimes adding up to thousands of pounds.

Campaigners warned the cost of the treatment serves as an obstacle which “prices out” women from pursuing treatment - adding that cutting the NHS prescription fee could save on money spent on tackling the prolonged health risks the menopause poses. A previous poll of almost 3,000 women conducted by Channel 4 found two-thirds were offered antidepressants for symptoms of the menopause, even though this can worsen them.

Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, who has introduced legislation to parliament urging the government to make hormone replacement therapy free, told The Independent: “Women need equality. HRT is the only hormone which is not available for free on the NHS. I’m hoping this is an oversight. Women’s health has never been a priority.”

Ms Harris, who has set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of MPs which is focused on the menopause, noted viagra is free for men on the NHS yet hormone replacement therapy is not.

“It doesn’t make sense contraception is free, but what can help women at the terrible time of going through the menopause is not free,” she added. “We have to make sure women can reap the life-changing benefits of HRT during their menopause which is a very difficult time physically and psychologically and can massively disrupt and destroy their day to day lives.”

Previous research carried out by Newson Health Menopause and Wellbeing Centre, a specialist clinic, discovered around six in 10 women visited their GP more than twice, while almost two in 10 saw them more than six times, before they received sufficient support for menopausal symptoms.

Researchers discovered just one in 10 women in the UK is taking HRT despite the fact a poll discovered nine out of 10 thought going through the menopause was so tough it had significant repercussions on their ability to perform in the workplace.

Mika Simmons, co-founder of Ginsburg Women’s Health Board and director of Happy Vagina, a platform raising awareness of women’s health, said: “Every single woman, 51 per cent of the population, will be impacted by the menopause.

“But even more than that it also impacts the families and colleagues surrounding them. It is an unavoidable health issue that we should all be demanding free support for.

“We are in the midst of a menopause movement and it is incredible to see so many women demanding much overdue attention towards the menopause.”

A previous report by Baker Mackenzie, a law firm, discovered the UK could be losing 14 million work days a year as a result of the menopause.

Saira Shah, an award-winning war reporter and documentary-maker who is backing the campaign, said: “I can’t believe that women in England are only receiving life-changing HRT treatment if they can afford to pay prescription charges.”

Symptoms of menopause also include vaginal dryness, night sweats, insomnia, headaches, a reduced sex drive, recurrent urinary tract infections – as well as mood changes, feelings of sadness, difficulty concentrating and issues with memory.

Amanda Abbington, a Sherlock actor who is backing the campaign for free hormone replacement therapy, said: “The menopause can be a highly complicated, quite unsettling and, more often than not, incredibly difficult thing to go through and if it can be made any easier to navigate by having the option of taking HRT then it must be made free for women to access it on the NHS.”

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