Labour MP Carolyn Harris has secured victories with her menopause support and services campaign, as the government has confirmed that changes will be made to reduce the cost of hormone replacement therapy prescriptions.
Speaking at the conclusion of the second reading of the menopause support and services bill, a private members’ bill, minister Maria Caulfield also committed to establishing a new menopause taskforce with Harris as a co-chair.
The Labour backbencher presented her bill today explaining that thousands of GPs are qualifying and entering practice without knowledge of how to diagnose the menopause as many medical schools do not have mandatory menopause education.
She talked about the stigma around the menopause, the lack of education around it and HRT in society, and the impact that the menopause can have in the workplace, with women being sacked or quitting their jobs due to the symptoms.
The bill sought to make NHS prescription HRT – the treatment for menopausal symptoms – free of charge in England and to require the publication of a UK-wide cross-government strategy, covering support services and education.
“The menopause doesn’t discriminate, so the cost to treat it shouldn’t either,” Harris said. “We have got women struggling to find almost £20 a month, and it just isn’t right when this is a time in their life that women will reach – there’s no avoiding the menopause for half the population.”
She added: “The biggest complaint I’ve received over the last few months is from women who both need oestrogen and progesterone. Women who’ve had a hysterectomy can take oestrogen on its own, but for everyone else both are needed.
“Despite the hormones being combined into one product, women are charged individually for the hormones, meaning that each prescription is costing them £18.70.” She noted that “each time, the cost begins to add up”.
She highlighted that many are being charged each month for their HRT prescriptions, despite NICE guidelines recommending that after a three-month trial period women can then be prescribed HRT on an annual basis.
In response, the minister said changes will be made to allow prescribers to issue a batch of HRT prescriptions for up to 12 months with one signature. A woman on monthly repeat prescriptions for two hormones pays £224 a year – this would fall to £18.70 a year under the new system.
“We’re also committing to reviewing the double hormone issue,” Maria Caulfield said. “I’m happy to take that away and look at it further, and work with her and other colleagues and NHS colleagues to see what progress we can make”.
The health minister added that the new menopause taskforce would “encourage faster action and join up the dots across the system in order to take a coherent approach to improving support for those experiencing the menopause”.
Withdrawing her motion today after the government pledged to take action, Harris tearfully thanked the minister and clerks, saying: “Wonderful women, thank you. What has happened today is only the beginning, I know, but we can do such great things together.
“Because that’s what it’s all about, looking after the women. I’ve just been told that the Welsh government have also announced that they will be putting mandatory lessons for young people on the national curriculum and the Welsh government are also going to be delivering a pathway for menopausal women.”