Endometriosis Workplace Support

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Mental Health) 3:24 pm, 29th October 2019

Thank you for accommodating me in the debate, Mr Pritchard. I had not intended to make a speech but was inspired by my hon. Friend Louise Haigh, who spoke of her own experiences.

Many Members may know that one of the main issues that I have championed since coming to this place in 2015, besides constituency issues, has been women’s health. Largely that has been the result of my own experiences. I have an endometrial disease and, thankfully, I was lucky with respect to workplace issues. I worked in the NHS through most of the time in question, including diagnosis, so my employers were reasonably understanding when I went through chemical menopause at the age of 36 or 37. I want to stress how important it is for women to seek help at an early age if they experience abnormalities or, as in my case, very heavy and painful periods.

The thing that really encouraged me to seek help was when went to Asda after work one day and fainted from the pain. I have never experienced childbirth, so I cannot compare it, but it was the most chronic abdominal pain. I worked in a hospital at the time. I will not use the words that I said to Sir David Amess, for fear that they might be unparliamentary. I chose not to see the gynaecologist in the hospital where I worked because I thought, “If he has been looking at my nether regions I don’t particularly want to bump into him in the hospital canteen,” so I got a diagnosis at another hospital in the neighbouring trust in south Yorkshire. The gynaecologist was a mature gentleman and was very rude, saying to me, “Put up with it; you’re a woman, and women have periods.” I found that absolutely devastating and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley, I went home and cried. I thought, “I have to put up with this. This can’t be right.”

Years later I got a diagnosis—at the hospital where I worked, ironically. That gynaecologist has since emigrated to New Zealand, although I am assured that it was nothing to do with me. Within minutes of meeting me he said, “I know exactly what’s wrong.” I had already had three lots of surgery—two laparoscopies and one hysteroscopy. He allowed me to have the chemical menopause or a hysterectomy. I chose the chemical menopause because I still harboured hopes of having children. Thankfully, I was one of the women virtually cured by it. It brought some other health challenges. There is a message in that, about empowering women to ask for a second opinion. There is nothing wrong with doing that.

Traditionally in this country—thankfully, things are changing gradually—legislation has been made by men. If I have a headache or break my leg, men can empathise, because they have heads and legs too. But if I have a problem with my periods or my womb, we are still playing catch-up. I feel that the tide is turning. I congratulate Alec Shelbrooke, whose speech was excellent.