All women should be invited for an NHS health check aged 45 to help diagnose menopause earlier and combat a postcode lottery in care, MPs have said.
An ‘entrenched taboo’ around women’s health means support for the 13million currently going through peri-menopause or menopause is ‘completely inadequate’, they warn.
More must be done to help women gain timely access to treatment and advice, the report by the cross-party All-Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause adds.
This includes making HRT prescriptions free on the NHS and improving the training doctors receive about menopause symptoms.
An ‘entrenched taboo’ around women’s health means support for the 13million currently going through peri-menopause or menopause is ‘completely inadequate’, they warn (stock)
The group also wants GPs to receive extra payments for ensuring the menopause is correctly diagnosed and treated and better support for women in the workplace.
It is ‘particularly concerned’ about the divide emerging between women who are able to access the right treatment and those who lose out in the postcode lottery of NHS care and are unable to afford to go private.
Following a year-long inquiry, the APPG has now published a report that makes recommendations for Government, NHS and other bodies to ‘initiate change’.
The report says: ‘The NHS must implement a health check for all women at the age of 45, offered in a similar way to cervical cancer smears when all women are invited to make an appointment.
‘This is crucial to ensure women are engaged with the health system ahead of or in the early stages of peri-menopause, help diagnose menopause at an earlier stage and ensure women are better prepared, and have the right information and treatment they need to manage the menopause transition.’
Men and women are already offered a free NHS health check once they hit 40 but that specifically looks for early signs of stroke, heart disease, diabetes or dementia.
In its new study, the APPG said one of its central concerns is that women face a postcode lottery on whether they can access the right treatment from their GP.
WHAT IS THE MENOPAUSE?
Menopause is when a woman stops having periods, and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.
It is a normal part of ageing and caused by levels of the sex hormone oestrogen dropping.
Some women go through this time with few, if any, symptoms.
Others suffer from hot flushes, sleeping difficulties, mood swings and brain fog, which can last for months or years and might change over time.
HRT replaces the hormones and is the main treatment used to treat symptoms — which can be severe and disrupt day-to-day life.
Menopause happens when your ovaries stop producing as much of the hormone oestrogen and no longer release an egg each month.
The APPG heard from women struggling to access treatment, with one saying: ‘I was routinely offered antidepressants despite me not experiencing any depression or even a low mood.
‘I’ve had a GP argue with me that antidepressants should be used for peri-menopause symptoms, and she didn’t back down until I cited the current NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) clinical guidelines which state that this is absolutely not the case and that antidepressants are not appropriate in most cases.’
Another woman who suspected she was peri-menopausal aged 39 was turned away by her GP and told to ‘wait and see’.
Some 18 months later she said she was ‘almost at the verge of collapsing, struggling to keep my usually happy marriage on track and not functioning well physically or mentally’.
The APPG report said that ‘despite the evidence on the safe and effective use of’ HRT to manage menopause symptoms, ‘misconceptions around its usage and the perceptions of its dangers still strongly prevail both among women and medical professionals’.
It said many women are still not being offered HRT by their doctors, or they themselves turn down treatment based on misconceptions.
‘Busting the myth around the use of HRT is essential to ensure more women can get the treatment they need to manage their symptoms which can have a huge impact on their day-to-day lives,’ it added.
The APPG also argued that despite the Government cutting the cost of repeat HRT prescriptions, HRT ‘is not a luxury and it ought to be freely available for all who wish to use it’.
It added: ‘We urge the Government to make HRT free on prescription to all in England as is the case in the devolved nations.’
When it comes to training for doctors, MPs welcomed the fact assessments for incoming medics from 2024/25 will cover menopause, but said action was needed to ensure existing doctors ‘deliver the best menopause treatment possible’.
They also called on workplaces to do more, saying almost a million women in the UK have left jobs as a result of menopausal symptoms.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairwoman of the APPG, said: ‘Access to HRT remains a postcode lottery for women in the UK and there is a stark divide between those who can afford to seek treatment elsewhere, and those who cannot.
‘The consequences for those suffering with menopause symptoms who can’t get the right treatment can be severe – leading to the breakdown of personal relationships and jeopardising careers, with women being forced to take additional days off or leave work all together, putting their financial situations at risk.
‘Whilst the development of a women’s health strategy was an opportunity to revolutionise access to menopause support and treatment for all, in its current form it has failed to address the multiple issues that women in the UK are facing.’