Symptoms of the menopause can include hot flushes; night sweats; fatigue; unexplained anxiety; brain fog; headaches; and insomnia. Of course, some experience these mildly, but for others, their wellbeing, relationships and sometimes even their career can be greatly affected. I understand that greater support needs to be offered to menopausal and peri-menopausal women across the country.
I am glad that Parliament is actively debating this issue and that, as a result, the Government has announced additional measures for affected women. I welcome the Government’s intention to amend the regulations surrounding Hormone Replacement Therapy prescriptions in England, reducing frequent charges with a resultant potential annual saving of up to £205. A new cross-party Menopause Taskforce, co-chaired by the Minister for Women’s Health and Carolyn Harris MP, will consider how education and training, workplace policies and peer groups can support affected women.
Alongside this, the NHS and NHS Improvement have introduced a new menopause pathway improvement programme. Furthermore, the Government has publicly consulted on health and wellbeing issues faced by women, and as it was raised as a key concern, has placed the menopause at the heart of its Women’s Health Strategy.
Furthermore, testosterone is not licensed to treat menopause symptoms in the UK, however it can be prescribed “off label” on the advice of specialists.
In NICE’s guidance on diagnosis and management of the menopause, they suggest the use of “testosterone supplementation for menopausal women with low sexual desire if HRT alone is not effective.” However, unlike oestrogen and progesterone replacement therapy, the long-term consequences of testosterone are not fully known, which is why it isn’t licensed for use in the NHS. It has been suggested that there may be a risk of cancer, although there is no current confirmation of this. There is a fine line between providing the correct amount of testosterone supplementation and providing too much. This can result in several adverse side effects including acne, facial hair growth and deepening of the voice, which can be irreversible in some cases. Testosterone supplementation is also not effective for every woman.
Of course, raising awareness of the symptoms of the menopause is crucial to help women access the care they need. Therefore, I welcome the fact that relationship education is now compulsory in schools and covers the menopause. I know that the National Institute for Health and Care Guidance published guidelines in 2019 about support and treatment for the often-debilitating symptoms women suffer. Government is working with businesses and academics to highlight measures which can make a significant difference for those going through the menopause, including setting out practical action employers can take, and flexible working policies.
I am also delighted that, at the Second Reading of the Menopause (Support and Services) Bill, the Minister for Women’s Health announced a series of measures to improve the support available to women experiencing the menopause. This included: confirming that the menopause would be a key part of the Women’s Health Strategy; measures to reduce the costs of Hormone Replacement Therapy; and launching a cross-government Menopause Taskforce, chaired by the Minister and Carolyn Harris MP.
Finally, I am heartened by the work of organisations like the International Menopause Society and Menopause Support to increase awareness and understanding of women’s experiences. I will of course continue to monitor this matter by consulting my relevant ministerial colleagues and will seek to attend future debates.