World Menopause Day — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:06 pm on 27th October 2022.

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[Relevant document: First Report of the Women and Equalities Committee of Session 2022-23, Menopause and the workplace, HC 91.]

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 3:10 pm, 27th October 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered World Menopause Day.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for this important debate. I am delighted to co-sponsor it with Caroline Nokes, who shares my passion and determination to improve access to support and treatment for those experiencing symptoms of the menopause.

Anyone in or around Parliament last week might have noticed a buzz of activity. The reason, obviously, was that last Tuesday was World Menopause Day. It was an honour to welcome a group of women who have been instrumental in campaigning for change, from grassroots campaigners to clinicians and celebrities who are using their platform to amplify the message. The day ended with a rally in Old Palace Yard, almost 12 months on from our last Westminster menopause rally. Last year, I stood among jubilant women in Parliament Square. We were celebrating the fact that the Government had listened and committed to dramatically reducing the cost of NHS prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy in England, which would bring them somewhere near the free prescriptions in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They also committed to setting up a taskforce to look at other barriers women face.

This year, many of the same women were back again. They were as determined as they were last year. They were loud—possibly a little louder than last year. But they were a little less jubilant, a little more sceptical and far less confident in the Government’s commitment to the promises that they made in October 2021. However, they have not given up.

At the rally, Menopause Mandate launched a wonderful book, “It’s Beyond a Joke”, a collection of real lived experience stories from women. Some are graphic, some are funny, but some will break your heart. Every one is an honest account of a woman’s personal menopause journey, and every one is different, because no two women experience the same menopause. There are stories of misdiagnosis, insufficient workplace support and HRT shortages. There are stories from women who are struggling to afford the cost of the menopause, and from women who are hitting brick wall after brick wall when they try to access support. Thankfully, there are stories from women who faced some dreadful experiences but came out the other side—stronger, happier and ready to be their wonderful selves all over again.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health)

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this vital debate to Parliament. Her speech is a wonderful contribution on what so many people have gone through. Does she agree that menopause is not just a physical condition or response in the body, but something with a mental health and wellbeing impact? People need access to specialist services and clinicians, so that their psychosocial needs can be met in a holistic way.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady. I myself spent eight years on antidepressants, believing that I had mental health problems, only to discover that I was actually menopausal. I can assure everyone that that was a relief.

I urge the Minister, his colleagues and any Member who does not have a copy—copies are available in my office—to read the book, and to join the campaign for change and for better access to menopause care. As I said, it has been almost a year since the first Westminster menopause rally, which followed the introduction of my private Member’s Bill, the Menopause (Support and Services) Bill.

Since then, we have seen a Government in chaos. There have been three different Health Secretaries, but now one has returned. An HRT tsar has come and gone within a few short months, leaving merely a list of recommendations. The HRT stock crisis rumbles on, months after the Department of Health and Social Care promised that it would be resolved. We still await the promised annual prepayment certificate for HRT prescriptions in England. As families up and down the country struggle with the costs of fuel, food and energy continuing to rise at an alarming rate, the prepayment certificate is more important than ever. Choices are being made on where to cut back on household expenses and on which luxuries can go. Menopause is not a choice and HRT is not a luxury but, for many women, the monthly cost of their prescriptions will be one of the casualties of family finance cutbacks. It is therefore vital that the promised prepayment certificate is implemented as soon as possible—women have already waited a year. The latest date we were advised for its introduction was April 2023. I would be grateful if we could have a guarantee from the Minister today that this will not slip any further.

Around the same time as my private Member’s Bill on menopause, the all-party parliamentary group on menopause, which I chair, launched its inquiry into the impact of the menopause. Earlier this month we published our latest report, which highlighted a number of areas where urgent change is vitally needed, including a call for better training for medical professionals. Stories from “It’s Beyond a Joke” show just how much that is needed. One woman says:

“The GP doesn’t want to ‘dabble’ in drugs with me”.

Another writes:

“The GP had no idea…Despite me telling him how much better I felt on HRT, it seemed that he was only concerned with getting me to stop taking it as soon as possible”.

A third shares:

“I spoke to my female GP. Her response when I mentioned the menopause was ‘Well you’re about the right age’. She prescribed antidepressants”.

Evidence taken during the APPG inquiry saw the same pattern of misdiagnosis, ongoing symptoms and repeated appointments with GPs. I am not blaming GPs. At most, they will have had only a few hours’ training on the menopause during medical school, and some will have had none at all. I am pleased that the women’s health strategy commits to changing that, but it really does not go far enough. The women who are suffering now cannot wait seven years for current medical students to enter practice. We need a programme in place to upskill those who are practising and prescribing to support women today and ensure that everyone who needs it has access to accurate and comprehensive information and treatment.

We also need the Government to make resources available to the health service to allow it to provide this training and support to help it to improve its menopause service. Adding menopause to the quality and outcomes framework would also help. Incentivising doctors to improve their knowledge of menopausal symptoms and treatment options would undoubtedly increase levels of diagnosis and, ultimately, benefit patients.

The APPG report also recommends that all women be offered a specific menopause check-up with their GP. Identifying and addressing symptoms early is vital. We know that some women will go through perimenopause and reach menopause early on. For some, this is due to medical treatment or surgical procedures, while for others it is due to a natural decline in their hormones. For a high percentage of women, an appointment in their 40s to discuss symptoms and treatment could be life-changing. Early detection saves women not only months and possibly years of unnecessary pain and anguish, but careers, relationships and lives—it is no coincidence that the suicide rate among women increases by 16% between the ages of 45 and 55.

We also need to look at the postcode lottery that women face in accessing HRT. The stark divide between those who can afford to see a private menopause specialist and those who cannot, coupled with the different products offered as primary treatment options in different parts of the country, results in women from lower socioeconomic communities being far less likely to be able to access the best care. Evidence taken during the APPG inquiry made a clear case for the need for a national formulary, which would allow prescribers across the country to offer their patients a choice of all available HRT products.

Another issue that became a key topic of both the report and the book is support in the workplace. A report published earlier this year by the Fawcett Society found that, shockingly, one in 10 women is leaving the workplace due to a lack of support, with thousands of others reducing hours and avoiding promotion. This trend was echoed in the evidence sessions during the APPG’s inquiry and the stories submitted to the Menopause Mandate book. One woman said:

“I have had to recently step down from my role at work as I’m still not able to perform at the level needed…I tried to keep my chin up and work through, but this failed.”

Another wrote:

“I had to retire early, aged 59, as I simply couldn’t cope anymore. So, I lived in poverty for four years. I had so little money I bought no new underwear until I got my pension. I even stole toilet paper from cafes to make ends meet.”

Another woman said:

“I was dismissed from my job because of my debilitating symptoms…I was told by my employer that I was ‘fabricating an illness’. According to them, I had made it into work and looked fine.”

She was told that there was nothing wrong with her.

Such stories are devastating and, sadly, far too common. Thankfully, we are seeing change, and employers are gradually realising that they need to do more. Just two weeks ago, I hosted an event alongside Swansea City football club for businesses in Swansea to learn more about what their staff are experiencing and what employers can do to help. I was delighted by the turnout and was particularly encouraged by the desire among employers in my city to do so much more. I would love nothing more than for Swansea to be a city that really understands and embraces the menopause, and this week I saw signs of that beginning to happen. I went to watch the football on Sunday—the Swansea-Cardiff derby—and I was astounded by the number of men who came up to me, congratulated me on the work I am doing on the menopause, and asked for selfies to show their wives, so that their wives would be proud that they had spoken to the menopause MP. I hope that translates into votes.

By contrast, I heard of a woman who had gone to see her GP for some help for her symptoms. She was told by her GP, “That Carolyn Harris has a lot to answer for.” Well, perhaps I do, but is it really too much to ask that those who are suffering have access to the best possible care and treatment, and that menopausal women across society are given the attention and respect that they deserve in medical settings, in families and in the workplace? Currently, only a quarter of businesses have menopause support policies in place, but by making simple adjustments, employees will feel valued and, ultimately, businesses will retain loyal and experienced members of staff.

We really are just at that start, and I hope that the Government will sit up and listen and prioritise this area of women’s health. Progress is slowly being made, and the conversations taking place in the media and across communities are wonderful to see, because the more we talk, the more we learn. But it is not enough on its own. Support remains woefully inadequate, which, for 51% of the population, is really not good enough.

Twelve months ago, Government Ministers stood at the Dispatch Box and promised that change was coming. Twelve months ago, women celebrated triumphantly in Parliament Square. Twelve months ago, we all felt that our voices were finally being heard. Twelve months on, our economy is very fragile, families are struggling and menopausal women feel that they have been let down. We cannot keep waiting for the Government to fulfil the promises they have made.

Some colleagues in this Chamber will have been lobbied by their constituents to attend today’s debate. Many will have posted menopause-related content, which I know will have been well received by their constituents, because the menopause revolution is marching on. We are not going away. We are not going to stop asking for what is needed, and we will not be silent. We are not asking for special treatment, and we are not asking to be treated differently. We just want the resource, the respect and the support for women to experience the normality that the menopause can all too often rob them of.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The debate can last until 4.30 pm. I am obliged to call the Front Benchers at no later than 3.57 pm, and the guideline limits are 10 minutes for the Scottish National party, 10 minutes for His Majesty’s Opposition, and 10 minutes for the Minister. Then, Carolyn Harris will have three minutes to sum up the debate at the end. It is Back-Bench time until 3.57 pm and eight Members wish to contribute. There is a strict four-minute limit and I strongly discourage speakers from accepting interventions, because if you do, it means that somebody will drop off the list. If you keep it to four minutes, everybody will get in.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon 3:25 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I offer my congratulations to Carolyn Harris and my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes on securing this important debate and on giving us the opportunity to speak out and help raise awareness further.

I wanted to speak today to thank the hon. Member for Swansea East for her tireless work on raising awareness, improving education and increasing the availability of HRT to women across the country. I have to confess that I have learned more about the menopause since becoming an MP than in the previous half a century. I also want to thank the previous Health Ministers who have delivered the women’s health strategy, included the menopause in schools’ sexual health and relationships education and ensured it is included more fully in healthcare professionals’ training.

The Fawcett Society reports that one in 10 women has left a job due to menopause symptoms. At a time of such huge job vacancies across the country, I am sure the Minister, given his former roles, will agree that anything that can be done to facilitate more women feeling able to continue in their jobs and careers is vital. The vast majority of women report no employer support, no policies, no awareness and no training. I hope that by raising the menopause in the House again this afternoon, more women and their employers will think about what more can be done.

HRT is increasingly available more widely and I urge all women of that certain age to speak with their doctors about whether HRT may help with their symptoms, and to ensure they get their full year’s supply on that single prescription. Ladies, let us take back control of this time in our lives. Go and see your GP and ask the question. Speak to your friends and support each other, as half of us of that certain age are anxious and losing confidence. We can help each other. Indeed, these debates are highly therapeutic for all of us to recognise that the brain fog is not quite a senior moment yet.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Minister (Defence) 3:28 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris for her continued work in this area, together with Caroline Nokes. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to this debate.

Approximately 13 million women in the UK are peri or postmenopausal. Ten per cent of women over 50 quit jobs due to menopause symptoms. Ninety per cent. of women get menopause symptoms, yet women get inadequate support due to the taboo around menopause in work, society and home life, as well as medically. The cost of HRT creates socioeconomic divides in access to support for the menopause, and I reiterate the point made so well about the fact that the Government’s commitment to securing the cost of HRT will not come into place until April 2023. Given the current cost of living crisis, that has a real impact on working-class women in my constituency of Luton South, particularly as the menopause is not a choice.

Similarly to Selaine Saxby, I want to focus on menopause in the workplace. As our workforce age year on year, studies show that around 75% to 85% of menopausal women are in work. It is hugely important to tackle attitudes and policies relating to the menopause in the workplace, to ensure that women are supported and do not feel forced into leaving their positions. We have heard how nearly 1 million women leave the workplace due to menopause every year, and that just exacerbates gender inequality in the workplace and the gender pay gap. There are many employers who are still failing to consider menopause as a proper health condition and who lack supportive policies that help those going through the change.

Women who have experienced the menopause while at work have discussed their frustration at suffering from loss of concentration, brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, hot flushes, sweats or bleeding while they are at work. And the brain fog is real—I can assure the Minister of that.

Many of these symptoms of menopause are taboo, and they have a detrimental effect on women’s position and ability to advance their careers. Many women have said that they are unable to carry out their jobs to the best of their ability due to the impact of the menopause. Seventy-seven per cent. of women say that they experience one or more of its symptoms, which makes it very difficult for them. Sixty-nine per cent. experience difficulties with anxiety or depression due to menopause. Eighty-four per cent. experience trouble sleeping, and 73% experience brain fog, which I have experienced myself.

I urge the Minister to ensure that the Government update and promote guidance for employers on best practice policies on menopause at work and supportive interventions. That should include the economic justification and productivity benefits of doing so, and it should be tailored to organisations of different sizes and resources, to ensure that it is as effective as possible. What interaction has the Minister and his Department had with the TUC and trade unions on this key workplace issue regarding menopause?

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to the women who have supported me as we have all shared our menopause experiences. This is for my menopause massive: Trish, Sarah, Julie, Caz, Liz, Helena, Anne-Laure and Marie. We have all experienced different angles of the menopause and I have learned more from them than from a lot of the stuff that is out there.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire 3:31 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Hollobone.

I pay particular tribute to Carolyn Harris. Not only did she share some purple hair dye with my daughter, who at the time was 17, but she persuaded my daughter, who is now 18, to ask me about the menopause, so in my household anyway, the hon. Member is quite a famous person.

I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes. I always get confused by that constituency name, because I represent South Northamptonshire, so it is somehow a real tongue-twister; I am sure she understands.

I also pay tribute to everyone here today who is now openly talking about the menopause. For me, all the way through until I started menopause—quite late, as it happened—I did not know the foggiest thing about it, literally. What is it? Nobody ever talked about the menopause, and that is extraordinary. We all chat about Viagra, and that serves a very different purpose; but the menopause, which affects 100% of women at some point in their lives, is somehow a taboo subject, particularly the consequences for women—feeling terrible, not being able to sleep and all the things that hon. Members have been talked about today.

Yet 41% of medical schools do not teach menopause as a mandatory subject. How utterly bizarre is that? It is completely strange. A study by Newson Health highlighted that 79% of women surveyed had visited their GP regarding clearly menopausal symptoms, yet only 37% were given hormone replacement therapy, and 23% were given antidepressants. In addition, women often face a wait of more than a year to get help. It is utterly ridiculous.

As Liz Earle, who is famous for her face products but is a real campaigner for helping women through the menopause, has said:

“It’s all about how to have a better second half of life, and I do believe the second half can be even better than the first.”

Hear, hear to that. Actually, in the second half of life, once the kids have grown up and you have got your life back and you are now an MP and want to get on, you actually want your hormone replacement therapy to be available on tap—don’t you, Mr Hollobone? “Yes”, I hear you say—shout, even.

I know that the Minister of State will be very sympathetic, because he really is a good listener, and while the menopause may not be his normal dinner-time conversation either, he will appreciate how important it is to all women of a certain age.

I will finish with the words of a lovely constituent who came to see me at my surgery:

“My GP encouraged me not to give up and 6 months later, after taking HRT, I’m now a new woman.”

So let us hear it for new women.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities) 3:34 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, especially in this debate. I will probably not take four minutes—that will sound strange to many folk who hear me here regularly—but I am just here as a cheerleader. I went through the menopause—I was trying to work it out, but my arithmetic is absolutely rubbish—about 30 years ago. I know it is hard to believe, but it is true. It was an early-ish menopause, and no one spoke about it. It was the Cissie and Ada time—Les Dawson and his colleague, who just mouthed “the change”.

I find it refreshing, glorious and essential that we talk about menopause. Carolyn Harris knows that she is my heroine, even though I got to meet Richard Gere and she did not—that has always been a bone of contention between us. I pay tribute to her and her work. I also pay tribute to Caroline Nokes, with whom I served on the Education Committee. They are great role models, including for people like me.

Another of my role models is my First Minister in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. She recently went to a centre in Coatbridge—I may have got the location wrong—to talk to other women about the menopause. That would not have happened even five or six years ago, but it is vital for all the reasons that everyone has talked about. We have heard the statistics about working women who are going through the menopause, and about the lack of understanding from employers.

I was fortunate, because I worked in an FE college and I commanded the room. If I felt hot, the students had wide open windows. If I did not feel too great, they kind of tiptoed around me, but I did not tell them that I was suffering from the menopause. They did not really know what was going on. It is important that younger women, younger men and older men know what the menopause involves. We must not make life even more difficult for 50% of the population, who are experienced—usually highly experienced—working colleagues.

I say to colleagues here: more power to your elbow. I think you are all doing a wonderful job, and I am just sailing along on your coattails. Mr Hollobone, I think you are having an education this afternoon.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 3:37 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I pay tribute to Carolyn Harris, and to my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield, who did so much to ensure that people can get prescriptions for HRT over the counter. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mims Davies, who is here but cannot speak in the debate. In her role as employment Minister, she recognises that the menopause is not simply a health issue; it also affects the economy, employment and women’s wellbeing in later life. I hesitate to use that phrase; I must declare my interest.

I will give the Minister a hard time. Back in July, the Women and Equalities Committee published our “Menopause and the workplace” report. I recognise that he is a Health Minister, but I hope he understands my disappointment that we are still waiting for a Health response to our report. This afternoon, I was sent an email apologising again for the fact that tomorrow the response to that report will be one month late, and telling me to expect the full response in the coming months. It is a very bad plan to tell a menopausal woman to wait for anything. They should not be waiting for their single prescription over 12 months, and we should not be waiting for months for the Government to come up with a response to a very sensible—I would say that—report.

What do I actually want from that response? I want to see flexible working, so I want an employment Bill. That is not the Minister’s responsibility. I want to see a consultation on whether the menopause should be a protected characteristic. That is not the Minister’s responsibility either. I am disappointed, because we should have a cross-Government response to the report.

We should see mandatory workplace policies, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leading the way to provide that resource to employers, free of charge on its website, as easy as anything. Great organisations such as Henpicked already do that. I was at the Menopause Friendly employers awards last month, and it was absolutely brilliant. Lots of employers have signed up, but why is BEIS not leading the way on that? We want to see the enactment of section 14 of the Equality Act 2010. That will be lost on the Minister; he will not know what I am talking about. I urge him to talk to the Government Equalities Office and at least consider that.

I want to see menopause ambassadors Government. It was great that Maddy McTernan was appointed HRT tsar, but she has returned to vaccines now. I want confidence from the Health Minister, as I have him here today, that Dame Lesley Regan will stay in place as the women’s health ambassador and that there will be a real commitment to the women’s health strategy. I shuddered when we had an “ABCD” of priorities, because I thought, “How long does it take to get to W for women’s health?” That was from the former Health Secretary; I hope the new Health Secretary will reinvigorate the women’s health agenda, and I urge the Minister to encourage him to do so.

I would like to see the Government working with a large-scale public sector employer to trial menopause workplace leave. I hesitate to point this out to the Minister, but it seems to me that the NHS is a large-scale public sector employer with lots of women working in it, so it might be ideal. I also want to see better training for GPs, and I want to know who is supporting our GPs. It is great that the workforce in general practice have been hugely feminised over the last few decades, but those women working in the health service also need support.

I want to champion the local women doing such fantastic work, whether that is Claire Hattrick and Jo Ibbott in Hampshire, or the brilliant GP I met at the Sutton Women’s Centre, where I went to do a menopause event, who was absolutely taking the message out there: “Your menopause can be celebrated and enjoyed, but it also needs to be managed.” For my final shot to the Minister, let us have a national formulary, let us deal with HRT shortages once and for all, and let us ensure that the info is out there for women.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales), Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:41 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris and Caroline Nokes on securing this debate to mark international Menopause Day, and also on their work to raise awareness of the need to be talking much more about menopause and to challenge many of the taboos that exist around this issue in women’s health. Potentially, around 51% of our population will experience menopause, so the lack of discussion absolutely needs to be challenged. I know that, in my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, there is no better champion to bring a focus to this issue and shine a light on the needs of women across the nation, and of course those of their families.

I absolutely do not profess to be as aware as many others here of the issues and challenges faced by women going through the menopause, but I recognise that it is a significant issue and one that has a big impact on society, workplaces and, more importantly, women themselves. That is why it is incumbent on us all, including men, to be aware and to do everything possible to offer support, because we know that around 75% of menopausal women experience symptoms and that around one third of those suffer severe symptoms.

We have heard from hon. Members about the various studies showing that around 75% to 85% of menopausal women are in work. There is a great need to tackle attitudes and implement policies related to the menopause in the workplace, to ensure that women are supported and do not feel forced out of their jobs. It is staggering to learn that nearly 1 million women leave their workplaces due to menopause every year, and we all appreciate that that will exacerbate gender inequality in the workplace and, indeed, the gender pay gap. It is unfortunate and absolutely wrong that many employers still fail to consider menopause as the proper health condition that it is. We know, too, that there is a significant lack of supportive policies to help those going through the menopause.

Women who have experienced the menopause while working have discussed the frustration of suffering from a loss of concentration—we have heard many examples today—brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, hot flushes, sweats and bleeding while at work, along with a range of other symptoms. My awareness of the symptoms and impact of menopause was raised when I was invited—that is perhaps not the right word—by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East to a menopause event at the Labour conference in Brighton last year, where, among other things, I attended a session of menopause bingo. That certainly raised my awareness—yes, there are lots of symptoms.

Many will have seen the Fawcett report, “Menopause and the Workplace”, which has been referred to today. It highlighted the fact that only 22% of women and trans men disclose when they are experiencing the menopause, while half said that it made them less likely to apply for promotion and a quarter said that they would consider early retirement. These are quite depressing figures. Surely the Government must therefore co-ordinate and support an employer-led campaign to raise awareness of menopause in the workplace and help to tackle the taboo surrounding menopause and work. Of course, the most important thing is that employers recognise the need to be aware and offer support to their employees. Policy may differ, but the key thing is that employers do not ignore the issue. Sadly, that has been the case for too long with many employers.

I end by once again congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East and the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North, and thanking all those involved in the APPG for the work it does to support women and their families across the UK and to tackle the lack of awareness. The APPG’s recent report highlighted the impact of this issue, and it is incredibly welcome. The report rightly highlights the need for reform and the need for more to be done to increase awareness. I hope that the Government will listen and take action.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes 3:45 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I express my appreciation to Carolyn Harris and my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes for securing the debate and for all the work they do in this space.

I want to speak briefly on the grounds of my chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group for prescribed drug dependence. As the hon. Member for Swansea East says, one of the great tragedies in this space is the ignorance of GPs and their willingness to quickly diagnose depression or some other condition that requires prescription drugs, which are often misprescribed and people struggle for years to get off them. That comes at a huge human cost and at great financial cost to the NHS, and it takes a huge toll on our society. Our research for our APPG demonstrates that there are at least half a billion pounds of savings to be made to the health service if we stop misprescribing habit-forming, dependence-inducing medication.

What to do? I agree with the recommendations we have heard about, particularly those in the APPG report. I also look forward to the Government’s response to the report from the Women and Equalities Committee, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North chairs. I am not sure about the value of expanding protected characteristics to include the menopause, but I would be interested to see what the Government say about that. I do not know that the Equality Act is the solution to every ill in our society, but it is a valid suggestion. Fundamentally, we need to treat each other better, at all levels.

I particularly recognise the imperative of improving training in primary care. GPs absolutely need to understand the symptoms of the menopause and not misdiagnose, disregard or belittle people who present with those symptoms. What we have heard is shocking. I particularly welcome the suggestion that the GP quality and outcomes framework should include the menopause and that training should be improved.

Then, of course, we have employers. As we have heard from my right hon. Friend, millions of people are suffering in their careers as a result of misunderstanding and discrimination against menopausal and perimenopausal women, and I echo the recommendation that all large employers should have proper menopause policies in place. Fundamentally, it is down to all of us to understand the menopause. Obviously, men do not experience it—I have to say, though, that brain fog is not confined to women—so it is a case of sympathy, not empathy. But our job, as men, is to understand the menopause, to help women in our lives who are experiencing it, and, whether as employers or relations, to be there for them and support them through it.

My daughter is here today, wondering what we are talking about. I will quickly mention my mother, who has been on HRT for many years. We hear all the terrible stories about the menopause, but my mother is a great success story of what HRT can do. She is a tremendous advocate for it, and I honour her for talking publicly about it.

I very much welcome what the Minister has to say. This should be a priority for the Government. I particularly welcome the emphasis that we need to see on women’s health, and I echo the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North made on that.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Labour, Warrington North 3:49 pm, 27th October 2022

What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairship, Mr Hollobone. I preface my remarks by putting on record again my thanks, and the thanks of women across the country, for the steadfast campaigning work of my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, who has ensured that this important topic is kept on the parliamentary agenda. She has also been such a wealth of information and advice when I need pointers for constituents who come to me with issues related to the menopause. Everything I know about the menopause and the help I have been able to give others is thanks to this woman right here. From me and from my constituents in Warrington North, thank you, Carolyn.

I would also like to thank Marion Fellows for sharing her experiences—and to ask what moisturiser she uses, as I cannot believe that those experiences were 30 years ago.

From speaking to friends, family and colleagues experiencing menopause and perimenopause, I know how transformative access to appropriate treatment can be. So many have told me that HRT has given them a new lease of life and given them back the ability to function that they thought they had lost, having struggled with brain fog and cognitive impairment. That is not a normal sign of ageing. We risk writing off thousands of women years before they have reached their peak, because of how insidious it is and how mad it makes them feel.

As the recent Fawcett Society report already mentioned shows, almost one in 10 women are leaving the workforce as a result of the menopause and a lack of support, denying their employers and our economy the benefit of their experience and making it more likely that they will experience poverty as they grow older. However, as we have heard from hon. Members in this debate and debates that we have held previously, there are certain groups that may find it harder to access appropriate support and guidance beyond the postcode lottery for GP services.

Women who start the menopause early may be less likely to be diagnosed, as watchful waiting is too often the course of action, leaving them suffering in the meantime. Women from ethnic minority communities and women of colour too often do not see themselves represented in medical literature or online campaigning; and for religious or cultural reasons, the discussions may not happen in families. I am glad that campaigners such as Menopause Mandate are making a concerted effort to improve the visibility of women of colour in their campaigning, highlighting the voices of women of colour and helping women to identify their own symptoms and experiences with those of role model campaigners. Trans people, especially those taking hormone replacement, women on contraception that disrupts or stops their menstrual cycle, or women who have had medical procedures including endometrial ablation, may be more likely to miss some of the symptoms of menopause, particularly as periods are one of the first things they will be asked about if seeking medical support, and they may not be aware of the other ways they might be affected.

Women should not have to go private to be taken seriously, to see a specialist or to have a choice of HRT products. My constituents are growing increasingly frustrated with the pace of change and with the GP backlogs under this Government that make getting an appointment harder than ever.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East rightly said that what women experiencing menopause need is resource, support and respect. I hope that the Minister today will update Members and our constituents on progress that is long overdue towards those aims, and on when we might see the employment Bill, through which we can ensure that women experiencing menopause have the rights to the support they need to help them to stay in the workforce.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:52 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a real pleasure to speak in this debate. The reason why I wanted to be here was, first, to support Carolyn Harris, but I also commend Caroline Nokes for all that she has done. I wanted to be here because my wife went through the menopause. The two hon. Ladies will know it, but others will know it as well. It is not because I am any wiser than anybody else; it is because, from the close relationship that I have with my wife, which is pretty understandable, I perhaps appreciate more than most, from a man’s point of view, what it means for a lady to go through all those extreme circumstances.

I recognise the passion of the hon. Member for Swansea East in relation to the challenges of menopause, a word that she has put on the lips of nearly everybody in the media—on the radio and in the papers. Therefore, whenever the hon. Lady has brought these things forward, I have always been here to support her, and I wanted to do that today. I apologise, Mr Hollobone. You know where I was; we had lost 50 minutes in the main Chamber and that was the reason why I could not be here on time. However, I want to make some points very quickly.

What needs to be addressed is the lack of specialist treatment and care for menopause and the issues that can arise as a consequence. I hope that the Minister can give us some idea of the position on specialist care. That specialist care needs to be in all the hospitals that we have across the United Kingdom. I know that it applies to us in Northern Ireland, where the Minister does not have responsibility. In Northern Ireland, we have the Kingsbridge Private Hospital, which opened the first menopause clinic in Northern Ireland. It is great to have that, to have a private clinic, but provision is needed for those who cannot source treatment and care from the private clinic because they do not have the financial resources to do so. That puts the emphasis on the NHS. It is only right that access to specialised treatment and care for menopause is implemented in the NHS as well. We need to see specialist menopause treatment rolled out in all hospitals. We need to provide for women experiencing the difficulties of menopause the personally tailored treatment that they unquestionably deserve.

GPs are always the first call for women suffering from menopause. Those women deserve clarity and conclusiveness from GPs, rather than, as often happens—I say this with respect—stagnation and short answers. “We’ll get you a blood test, then we’ll offer you some HRT, or you can just grin and bear it.” Those are the offers that are made, so it is of the utmost importance that we rectify the training process for GPs to include more than a passing module on the effects of menopause and its treatment. The side effects of menopause sometimes include osteoporosis, broken bones, or aches and pains. Those are the realities for ladies, and probably for my dear wife as well.

I made this point once before in another debate, but it is important to repeat it: women are unable to work for long periods of time without suffering from the menopause. Women over 40 are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce. That is the group we are talking about—the group who need the help—so we look to the Minister for that help, and other Departments will need to provide it as well. It is estimated that some 900,000 women in the UK have left their jobs as a result of menopausal symptoms. That is an issue that has to be addressed, maybe not by this Minister, but certainly by the Minister who has direct responsibility for it.

My last point is that the mental health of women can be shattered by the remorseless effects of menopause. There are women who are not only unable to go to work, but who struggle to maintain any rudimentary sense of a social life, unable to see their friends, do their job or enjoy themselves. That is a crushing impediment to sustainable mental health, and it needs addressing. As a man, I am very happy to ask for what every lady in this Chamber has asked for, and what other men have asked for as well, because it is only right that it should happen. We look to the Minister for answers, and we hope that we will get them.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities) 3:56 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hollobone. I am delighted to be in the Chamber with this very fine group of women and men to speak in this debate, and I congratulate Carolyn Harris and Caroline Nokes on having secured it. The hon. Member for Swansea East’s opening speech was outstanding, and exemplified her approach to this issue, which—unusually for this place—is something we can all agree on. That is quite refreshing.

It is also refreshing to be in the Chamber talking about this issue. It is very slowly—far too slowly—getting better, but as Dame Andrea Leadsom said, we do not speak about it enough. That is what needs to change, and we in this place have a big role in pushing for that to happen. We all know what I am talking about, don’t we? My hon. Friend Marion Fellows referred to it: that unspoken sense of “This is not quite proper to discuss”, that it is maybe wrong, or a bit unspeakable. Well, it is not. It is absolutely normal; it will affect more than half of us. Not to put too fine a point on it, I suspect that if it was the other half of us who experienced menopause, we might hear a good deal more about it, and we might see better provisions at work and in wider society.

There are some important voices out there who are doing a brilliant job of keeping the issue on the wider radar and making sure that these conversations about menopause are not unspeakable—that they do happen. We have heard about Liz Earle, and I also want to mention Davina McCall. Her work—I am very grateful to Carolyn McCall for drawing my attention to it—is really helpful in getting people talking. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw talked about Nicola Sturgeon, and I think the First Minister of Scotland discussing menopause and her own feelings about it is really powerful and important. It does not matter who you are or what your job is: menopause is something that will affect all us women.

Locally, too, I would like to mention some of the wonderful work that goes on in East Renfrewshire. My friends and colleagues Councillors Annette Ireland, Caroline Bamforth and Angela Convery are great advocates for women, and are practically supportive as well; they are the ones who champion information sharing and practical steps to support women going through the menopause. Councillor Ireland shared a great graphic from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde on World Menopause Day. It was really helpful—I did not know all those facts, and I think about this issue quite a lot, for personal as well as work reasons. We should know these things.

The average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. One in 100 women reaches menopause before the age of 40. Some 70% of women—as Jim Shannon referenced—experience some form of mental health impact during the menopause, and 38% of partners feel helpless when it comes to supporting their other halves through the menopause, as we heard clearly just now. This one gave me the heebie-jeebies: menopause symptoms can last for 15 years. I am not sure I can cope with that. I did not know that until recently and I have not quite come to terms with it. I heard that fact, and a lot more, at the Menopause Café at The Bank in Neilston, which I went along to recently. It was absolutely brilliant. It was utterly reassuring, informative and full of smashing women having really frank conversations and supporting one another. If someone is at the point in their life when they are able to go along to something like that, please do so.

We cannot do all of this ourselves. Even those of us in this Chamber cannot do all of this ourselves, nor should we think we can. We need structures put in place to support and inform women, and create the space to talk. Women’s health issues should be a topic of conversation any and every day. The polite silence that surrounded things for far too long needs to be consigned to history. I mention the voice of the hon. Member for Strangford in that; he speaks up about those issues, and it is very helpful.

I really appreciate the work that has been done in Scotland on free period products. I mention that because, as well as appreciating the practical support that provides, we need to be comfortable talking about periods if we are going to be comfortable talking about menopause. I also appreciate the free prescriptions that we have in Scotland under our SNP Scottish Government. That is a bit of a game changer in terms of HRT provision. As the hon. Member for Swansea East said, menopause is not a choice and HRT is not a luxury. She is absolutely right. It sounded to me a wee bit like women in England are facing a menopause tax. That is really challenging in the context of the current cost of living crisis, as Rachel Hopkins raised.

Women’s health matters here, it matters in Scotland and it matters all over the UK. In Scotland, as the first country in the UK to publish a women’s health plan last year, I think it is important that we are constantly looking at those things, as we need to be. We have got a specialist menopause service in health boards. That is important because it needs to be a subject that we are focused on.

Why does it matter? We have heard about the really challenging situations that some menopausal women face. There is a 16% increase in the suicide rate of women aged between 45 and 55; that is a really stark statistic. We do not talk about that. That is a taboo that we need to address. The silence, inability or lack of knowledge about some of those facts means that many women—most women, I guess—should know more. There is an awful lack of knowledge among women generally about what menopause can mean. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw spoke very powerfully about the silence and the unknown, and the problems they can cause. That lack of knowledge damages lives. We have heard about what that means in reality, whether that be for family life or work. We must remember that this affects more than half the population.

I welcome the Women and Equalities Committee report. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North spoke very powerfully about why it is important that we consider looking at making menopause a protected characteristic—that we look at reasonable adjustments. From my point of view, bravo to the Scottish Government for their focus on fair work. There will be another action plan shortly, focused on fair work—with focus on women and those over 50. It would be interesting to hear where the UK Government are on that.

I know it is perhaps unfair to ask this Minister, but I would like to know where he thinks the employment Bill is—I certainly cannot see it anywhere. It is really important. The employment Bill would be the appropriate vehicle to deliver a lot of the structures in relation to work and the menopause. Menopause support in the workplace will not happen by magic; it is our job here to facilitate some of that. Things like the right to flexible working from day one, for instance, might be the very thing that helps a woman who is going through menopause cope and sustain.

The graphic that I mentioned had a couple of really interesting statistics about work, which I thought were important. Nearly half of women—45%—feel that menopause symptoms have had a negative impact on their work. That should terrify us. We have heard repeatedly today that 10% of women have given up work or thought about giving up work because of their symptoms. That is a huge chunk out of the labour market. I appreciate that, despite the lack of an employment Bill—and I continue to hope one appears—there are employers out there that are doing great things on the menopause anyway. Well done to them; they will be the employers of choice, they will be the ones who retain the talent in their workforces and they are the leaders—we will all know who they are.

I appreciate that dealing with menopause in the workplace might not always be completely straightforward. Menopause is not linear, and that is before I even get into my questions about the huge gaping holes in knowledge about how menopause interacts with polycystic ovary syndrome and other medical conditions. Even at the most basic level, the symptoms, duration and physical and emotional impact are very individual and variable, but women need us in this place to get a grip on the issue, because at the moment many of them feel unable to seek support for the menopause at work. That could be the same for any one of us, or for our friends and family members. We will all know—perhaps we are—women who have experienced uncertainty, misery, confusion and symptoms of all kinds.

Charlotte Nichols spoke eloquently about the groups who are even more disadvantaged in all this. Some of us might sail serenely through the menopause, but it is still far too often the case that women’s troubles—I really, really hate that phrase—are not to be spoken of or dealt with. The reason that we have not done that is simply sexism. That is all there is to it. Let us decide that we are not going to accept that anymore, because this issue matters. Let us talk and share, as Selaine Saxby said, and let us push for improvements in education and employment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw spoke eloquently about why younger people need to know about the menopause. We should not suddenly need to know about it when we reach middle age. Let us talk about the menopause and how we can practically improve things, because women’s health should be part of normal, everyday conversations. We should make sure that the conversations relate to our work and our families, and to people of different age groups and different backgrounds, because the menopause is absolutely normal and we need to talk about it as if it is.

Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 4:06 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I pay tribute to Carolyn Harris and Caroline Nokes not just for securing today’s debate to mark World Menopause Day, but for being tireless champions of women. They have been pioneers and continued to make women’s voices heard at a time when, frankly, no one wanted to listen. The work that they have done already is beginning to change the lives of millions of women. On behalf of women my age, I thank them very much. I look forward to continuing to work with them and standing alongside them. I also thank all Members for their contributions to the debate.

As we have heard throughout the debate, too many women continue to suffer in silence and are afraid to break the taboo of speaking about menopause. Many have been misdiagnosed or simply ignored. It is a national scandal, and women, who make up 51% of our population, should not be made to put up with it. Having a frank and honest conversation in this House is a start, but when women cannot have frank and honest conversations with their own doctors, what hope do we have? From the consultation for the Government’s women’s health strategy, we know that 84% of women feel that their voices are not being heard when it comes to healthcare. That is simply not acceptable.

It is essential that women have confidence that the healthcare professionals treating them have the knowledge and understanding to provide quality healthcare. According to the charity Menopause Support, four in 10 British medical schools do not have menopause education on their curriculum, as we heard from Dame Andrea Leadsom. Without changing that, we will continue with a generation of healthcare professionals who simply do not know what to do when it comes to menopause. We know the Government are trying to make headway on this issue, and I really welcome the commitment made in the women’s health strategy to improve education, particularly in primary care. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify what discussions have been had with the General Medical Council to ensure that the proposed new medical licensing agreement makes specific reference to menopause. Furthermore, can he clarify what actions will be taken to upskill current staff, given the commitment in the women’s health strategy to lifelong learning?

We have heard today, as we have on several occasions in recent months, about the problems caused by the shortage of HRT. It should not be a luxury. It is not a “nice to have”. It is an essential part of treatment, recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, that makes a real difference to the lives of women going through menopause.

When alarming problems with supply became apparent, it took a public outcry from women—as it often does with women’s health issues—for the Government to sit up and listen. Despite repeated warnings, nothing was done. Not only did that deepen problems in the supply chain, but it put a cost burden on many women who can ill afford it during a cost of living crisis.

Delaying changes to prescription charges meant that some women were left paying up to £200 more for HRT this year. For many, that is simply unsustainable. There have already been delays in delivering the Government’s commitment to a single annual prescription charge for HRT. Will the Minister confirm that there will be no more delays and that the commitment will be delivered in April 2023, as promised by numerous Ministers?

Issues of access are compounded for black and minority ethnic women, with 45% needing multiple GP appointments to establish they were experiencing symptoms of menopause or pre-menopause. That is a shocking statistic, which shows a system that far too often ignores women’s concerns. Given the now former Health Secretary’s decision to scrap the health inequalities White Paper, I would be grateful if the Minister would outline the specific steps being taken to address that disparity.

This issue adds to the growing pile of those the Government are just not doing enough on. We can have all the ambassadors, tsars, reviews and taskforces in the world, but they mean nothing if there is no tangible action to improve women’s lives. No more talking shops, Minister; we need action. If the Government think that the issue will go away and that women will put up and shut up, they are sorely mistaken. That is proven by today’s debate and by the voices of women in the media. Women from every party in this House, every corner of the country and every part of society are speaking up. They will not stop until their voices are heard and justice is done. I look forward to the Minister’s response to all the questions raised today.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 4:13 pm, 27th October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is great to be back and to be reappointed. I congratulate Carolyn Harris on securing this important debate about World Menopause Day. With reference to the comments of Marion Fellows, this has been an education, certainly for me and no doubt for you, Mr Hollobone, as these debates should be.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

I rise as the husband of a menopausal woman. I pay tribute to my wife Clare and to PHS Group for the support that it has given her. Does the Minister agree that all men of all ages need to understand more about the menopause so that they can provide support to colleagues and family members who are experiencing its challenges?

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I certainly agree with that. I also want to say thank you in passing to PHS Group; it is important that employers play their part, and it is good to hear about what that organisation is doing. I did some work with it on the period product scheme in a previous role as Minister for Children and Families. We should celebrate companies that are doing the right thing by their employees.

Somebody said that the hon. Member for Swansea East—I will call her my hon. Friend—has a lot to answer for. There is no more effective campaigner in the House of Commons. I recognise the incredible work that she has done in raising awareness of the menopause, which affects millions of women across our United Kingdom. I also thank her for chairing the all-party parliamentary group, which recently published its first report, on menopause support.

It will not have escaped your notice, Mr Hollobone, that I am not my hon. Friend Dr Johnson. I have stepped in at the last minute, and I wish her well.

The hon. Member for Swansea East said that women are more sceptical and less jubilant. Although I am not the Minister responsible for this policy area or brief, the hon. Lady knows me and knows the issues on which we have campaigned together. She knows that, in me, she has an ally at the Department of Health and Social Care. She referred to men at the football coming to get a selfie with her. I think I speak for all men in the Chamber when I say that I would be honoured to have a selfie with her. In seriousness, I was moved by the stories that she and others told of the impact of the menopause on women in the workplace. In bringing about the change that we all want to see, she has an ally in me. That change is an issue not just for the Department of Health and Social Care but for BEIS. I have heard that loud and clear.

I thank my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes for all her work as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. Its recent report, “Menopause and the workplace”, to which she referred, demonstrates the significance of the topic to the House. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham has written, albeit today, to my right hon. Friend to explain that we are carefully considering the Committee’s recommendations. We will respond in due course, and I will ensure that that happens—I will chase it up today. I will also speak with BEIS and the Government Equalities Office about the issues my right hon. Friend raised.

I thank all Members who have spoken, whether on behalf of themselves or their constituents, to mark World Menopause Day. It is important to say that 51% of our population will experience the menopause. There is no question but that the stigmatisation of this important part of life must end. That begins with us talking more openly about the symptoms and the treatment and support available. Vitally, when women talk, we have to listen.

I would like to update the House on the Government’s important work in this area and to reflect on how far we have come and the distance we still have to go, and I will respond to as many of the points raised by hon. Members as I can. For too long, women’s experiences of menopause support have not been good enough. That was the clear message from our call for evidence on the women’s health strategy last year. The menopause was the third most selected topic for inclusion in the strategy. It was chosen by 48% of nearly 100,000 individual respondents.

During last year’s debate on World Menopause Day, the Government committed to listening and to making menopause a priority for our women’s health strategy. I am delighted that the first ever women’s health strategy for England has been published. It contains our 10-year ambitions and the immediate actions we are taking to improve the health and wellbeing of women and girls across our country, from adolescents through to older age. It details an ambitious programme of work to improve menopause care.

It is important to stress that we are not implementing the strategy alone. As I think was said already, we appointed Professor Dame Lesley Regan as the first women’s health ambassador. The hon. Member for Swansea East and I have worked with her on both baby loss and maternal health. She is an expert, and she will do an amazing job as the first women’s health ambassador for England. She will help us to raise the profile of women’s health and break down harmful taboos. I have no doubt that she will bring a range of voices to help us implement the strategy and deliver on our commitments.

Numerous Members raised healthcare support. I bring to the House’s attention the NHS England national menopause care improvement programme, which is improving clinical menopause care in England and reducing disparities in access to treatment. That important work sits alongside a menopause education and training package that the NHS is developing for healthcare professionals.

I turn to the important point of raising awareness. My right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom said that we know more about Viagra than about the menopause, and she may well be right. Awareness is vital to tackling the stigma around the menopause. We want everyone in this country to be educated about the menopause from an early age. All women going through the menopause and perimenopause should be able to recognise the symptoms and know their options. We are transforming the NHS website into a world-class first port of call for women’s health and have recently updated the menopause page.

As my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby rightly pointed out, we should educate the next generation of boys and girls to help break taboos and ensure that children growing up today can speak about the menopause openly. Menopause is included—I know this as a former schools Minister—in the statutory relationships, sex and health education curriculum, and we are working across Government to understand women’s health topics that teachers feel less confident about to provide further support.

Feryal Clark raised the issue of HRT supply. Although most HRT products remain in good supply, various factors, including increased demand, have led to supply issues with a limited number of products. That has improved significantly recently, and we have been working hard to ensure that women can access the treatment they need. We are implementing the recommendations of the HRT supply taskforce and continuing to use serious shortage protocols where appropriate. We keep that under close review.

The hon. Members for Swansea East and for Enfield North and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire mentioned the cost of HRT—an incredibly important issue. We are committed to reducing the cost of HRT prescriptions through a bespoke prepayment certificate for HRT, which we will introduce from April 2023, subject—here is the caveat—to the necessary consultation with professional bodies. The hon. Member for Swansea East asked me for a cast-iron guarantee, but she knows that I do not make promises that I cannot keep. I am not the Minister responsible, but I do know and firmly believe that politics is the art of the possible, and as long as I am a Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care I will ensure that the Department’s feet are held to the fire to deliver on that April 2023 ambition. It is taking longer than any of us would like because we have developed an entirely new system, and we have to create an implementation programme as well.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

I am not sure that what we have heard is entirely consistent. The Minister, who I know will work hard on this, indicated that there still needed to be a consultation with professional bodies, but he then indicated that the delay was in bringing forward a whole new technical system. Can he clarify that point?

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

My right hon. Friend is right to push me on that point. The reason for any potential delay would only be around the consultation that we would need to have. The delay—as in why we could not have done it before April 2023—is because we needed to design a whole new system. We are confident that that will be okay for April 2023. I am caveating it only because I am not the Minister responsible, and I try wherever possible not to make promises that I definitely cannot deliver on. I will not be the Minister delivering on this, but I have no doubt that the Minister who will be responsible will be able to update my right hon. Friend in due course.

Importantly, numerous Members mentioned menopause in the workplace, and, as I mentioned earlier, there were some very difficult stories. As a former Department for Work and Pensions Minister, I know the impact that that has on individuals who want to go to work and on employers, so we have to tackle that. This summer the Government responded to the independent, Government-commissioned report into menopause in the workplace, and we committed to working with a range of stakeholders to consider what more we can do. That will include an employer-led, Government-backed communications campaign on menopause in the workplace.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North mentioned the civil service and the NHS. They are two of the biggest employers and they have signed Wellbeing of Women’s menopause workplace pledge, which is a public commitment to making our organisations a supportive and understanding place for employees going through the menopause. I encourage all other employers to do the same.

Hon. Members also referenced an employment Bill. Again, that is a promise that I cannot make because it does not fall under the remit of the Department of Health and Social Care. Nevertheless, I will have that conversation with my counterpart at BEIS.

I want to ensure that the hon. Member for Swansea East has plenty of time to sum up, so I will conclude by thanking all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to this important debate and for their dedicated work across Parliament to improve the experiences of women in this country going through the menopause. As I said, they have an ally in me at the Department of Health and Social Care. I am glad that we have had the opportunity to discuss this hugely important topic and that I have had the opportunity to update the House on the work under way. It is vital that this conversation continues.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 4:25 pm, 27th October 2022

I thank the Minister for his kind words. We have worked together previously and I trust his word—I look forward to the certificate happening in April 2023.

I thank all colleagues for everything they have said. Women out there are listening to this debate, and they are grateful that we are talking about the menopause, because it is talking about it that will make a change.

Jim Shannon did not enlighten the House about the fact that he is now a local hero, after I mentioned him on “Loose Women” as a male menopause warrior. He has now been elevated to sainthood in Strangford.

We are changing the narrative, and we are changing it by talking—in here, to women, to Ministers and to each other. We have taught so many women about the situation they are in. Who would have thought we would be doing that as MPs? Caroline Nokes and I sometimes feel like doctors when we are asked for advice on the menopause. So many people have asked to have that conversation.

I am going to contradict the words of a song written by the male menopause warrior-in-chief, Sir Rod Stewart, that says,

“I don’t wanna talk about it”.

Well, that is wrong, because we do need to talk about it. We should talk about it, and we will talk about it until every one of the 13 million women in this country who are not having the appropriate treatment for the menopause have the respect they deserve and their lives are returned to normal.

Question put and agree to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered World Menopause Day.

Sitting adjourned.