I congratulate Alec Shelbrooke on bringing this matter to the attention of the House. As the father of three sons, I must admit that the subject of periods and “women’s concerns”, as my mother used to call them, was not my forte. Paula Sherriff will know what I am about to say, as I have told her before—and I commend her for all that she does and for the event that she held in Portcullis House. It was helpful for everyone to be aware of the issues.
In my office five out of six staff members are female, and two of those girls suffer from endometriosis. I have overheard too many conversations to ignore the issue and leave it in a pile marked as women’s concerns. I married my wife some 32 years ago, and at the time she suffered from endometriosis as well. The doctor told her, “If you have some children, that will clear it up.” Well, we had three children, and it did not clear it up—that is a fact.
I did a little research, with the help of the House of Commons Library, and the briefing states:
“It is not known how many women are affected by endometriosis in the UK, there are no official figures collected on prevalence but a figure commonly cited is that it is estimated to affect 1 in 10 women. In 2015, the Royal College of Nursing reported that ‘the exact prevalence of endometriosis is unknown but estimates range from between two and 10 per cent of the general female population but up to 50 percent in infertile women.’
The NHS does collect data on hospital admissions where endometriosis was the primary condition—in 2018-19 there were 23,000 hospital admissions where the main cause was endometriosis in England.”
I will always bring in the perspective of Northern Ireland, where nearly all the 380 women who took part in BBC research said endometriosis had badly affected their mental health, career opportunities, sexual relationships and education. The latest figures show that in Northern Ireland the number of women waiting for a gynaecology outpatient appointment rose from 7,700 in 2012 to 17,000 in March. That is a massive increase of about 120%. In 2010, 221 patients were waiting for a laparoscopy, and by March this year the number had almost tripled to 606. That shows that the issue is becoming more prevalent. Of those waiting, nearly half have been doing so for more than six months. Those women are being failed by the NHS. Yet we expect them to continue to go to work with immense pain, feeling ill and sometimes unable to move. Worse, we live in a society where we have been trained not to talk about it. We talk about migraines openly in the workplace, but the debilitating disease of endometriosis is just as deserving of consideration and support in the workplace.
I firmly believe that we must begin a campaign to raise awareness of the problem for women, and of how gentle support can and must be put in place. That support can range from more frequent rest breaks to a change of activity during flare-ups in manual labour jobs, and even flexibility in sick day procedure. It is just a matter of understanding, being compassionate and sincere and trying to help—having empathy. I believe the change must start from here and work its way through all public sector jobs. I look to the Minister, as always, to understand how and when he intends to implement that support system.