Read Trish Halpin and Lorraine Candy's take.
You might have seen the news that a new “Menopause Taskforce” was launched in the UK last week.
As well as reducing the prescription rates of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the British government has vowed to help re-educate menopausal women, set up support groups and lobby for workplace policies that protect women from unfair dismissal.
But is this enough? After years of the menopause and its surrounding symptoms being seen as taboo, will this truly make a difference to the lives of the millions of women who go through menopause in the UK each year? Here, Trish Halpin and Lorraine Candy’s, co-hosts of the Postcards From Midlife podcast, share their take.
So, is lower HRT prices and a new “Menopause Taskforce” enough?
On Friday 29th October, in a corner of Parliament Square, we gathered with hundreds of women, including Davina McCall, Penny Lancaster and Mariella Fostrup, under the statue of Suffragette leader Millicent Fawcett. Wearing our Menopause Warrior badges and holding banners aloft, we waited for the MP Carolyn Harris, and her colleagues from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Menopause, to emerge from the Palace of Westminster.
After a two-hour debate on their Private Members Bill, calling for HRT prescriptions to be made free for women in England to bring it in line with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the politicians came out of the Commons to cheers and applause, having secured a landmark agreement from the government.
For most women, Hormone Replacement Therapy is made up of two hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, and in England each one has a separate £9.35 prescription charge. On average the prescription has to be refilled between four and six times a year, meaning that some women are paying upwards of £110 per year for essential, life-changing medicine that they simply can’t function properly without.
Every single woman in the UK will experience peri-menopause symptoms for up to ten years from their early forties to fifties, and there are up to 40 debilitating symptoms associated with it, from brain fog, joint pain, vaginal dryness and hot flushes to name but a few. (Check out the Balance Menopause site for a scan of the 150+ symptoms you may experience).
However GPs are poorly trained in diagnosing menopause, as women we haven’t been educated about it, and when it does happens to us, we find it hard to join the dots and ask for help.
While the government didn’t abolish the charge, they did agree to reduce it to a single prescription charge per year. And as Carolyn Harris told us on our podcast this summer, addressing the prescription charge inequality in the UK was really a way for the APPG to open the door and raise awareness at the highest level that menopausal women are being dreadfully let down and unsupported.
We launched Postcards from Midlife to celebrate everything that is brilliant about being a woman in your middle years, but also to raise awareness and change the narrative around menopause. As journalists who have edited glossy magazines including Elle, Red, Sunday Times Style and even Marie Claire, for more than 25 years, we thought that if we didn’t realise it was happening to us, how many other women were suffering in silence too?
Now, thanks to guests such as Davina McCall, Anna Richardson, Kate Thornton and Caitlin Moran who’ve come on the podcast to share their menopause experiences with incredible openness and honesty, the tide is turning. We’ve also had some amazing experts on the show too, sharing advice women are finding hard to access elsewhere.
We hear so many stories from our listeners and the members of our Facebook Group who tell us they didn’t know they were going through peri-menopause and thought they were seriously losing the plot – even contemplating suicide. Others were going to leave their marriages or give up their jobs. From what they’ve learned through the podcast they were able to go to their GP to ask for the right help – HRT – and not be fobbed off with antidepressants, which unfortunately is what a lot of doctors do to women at this age.
Along with the other Menopause Warriors, we’re calling for better training for GPs, more information about the benefits of HRT, and a menopause check for all women over 40.
We also want to see employers devise menopause policies that will properly support their female staff at this life stage.
We want every woman to get behind this, because whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s, menopause is going to affect you, your friends, your sisters, your cousins, your mothers and your aunts. But it needn’t be daunting, if we can ensure that the right help is available.