I agree that raising awareness of menopause and its signs and symptoms is important. PSHE and Biology curriculums cover puberty in detail, but do not address the menopause stage to a similar level, however I am aware that relationship education is now compulsory in schools which includes menopause in the curriculum. I know that the National Institute for Health and Care Guidance published guidelines in 2015 about support and treatment for the often debilitating symptoms women suffer, but I agree that more can be done to raise awareness.
I welcome that a number of my colleagues attended a debate in June about the menopause and its implications for women where they discussed matters including educating children, establishing workplace menopause policies and menopause support groups. I am pleased that my Ministerial colleague announced a new menopause pathway improvement programme that is being led by the NHS and NHS Improvement. This brings together key stakeholders and partners to develop evidence-based care pathways for women to increase access to and delivery of perimenopause and menopause care.
Further, I welcome that a consultation was announced by the Government prior to development of a Women's Health Strategy. This aims to understand and improve the health and wellbeing of women across the country, and I am delighted that the Government has committed to focusing on issues surrounding the menopause significantly in this strategy. Ministers hope to produce a landmark strategy that: places women’s voices at the centre of their health and care; improves the quality and accessibility of high-quality information and education on women’s health; ensures the health and care system is responsive to women’s needs throughout their lives; and understands how women’s physical and mental health can affect them in the workplace. I am aware that the Government has received over 100,000 responses and is in the process of reviewing them.
I also welcome steps being taken by my colleagues across government to work with businesses and academics to highlight the role employers can play in supporting women going through menopause transition, including setting out practical action employers can take, alongside policies like flexible working. Measures like these can make a significant difference for those going through the menopause.
The Menopause (Support and Services) Bill has not yet been published, but I look forward to considering its contents ahead of the Second Reading on Friday 29th October. In the meantime, I will be happy to ensure that ministers are aware of your comments around the free provision of Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Women experiencing the menopause are not included in the list of people entitled to free prescriptions. Eligibility depends on having a qualifying medical condition, the patient’s age, whether they are in qualifying full-time education, whether they are pregnant or have recently given birth, or whether they are in receipt of certain benefits or a war pension.
Moreover, 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 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.
I am heartened by the work of organisations like the International Menopause Society and Menopause Support to increase awareness and understanding about what women experience during this phase in their lives.
I will continue to monitor progress on this matter by speaking with my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and will seek to attend any future debates.