Menopause Bill: Women call for HRT to be made free in England ahead of crucial vote

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MPs are due to vote on a private members’ bill on Friday that, if passed, would make Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) free for those going through the menopause in England.

Menopause Bill: Women call for HRT to be made free in England ahead of crucial vote
© Mika Simmons / Deborah Killingback FotoJet (3).jpg

At present, HRT prescriptions cost £9.35 per item in England on the NHS, but are free in Wales and Scotland.

But the Menopause Bill, spearheaded by Labour MP Carolyn Harris, seeks to change that.

HRT is a treatment to relieve symptoms of menopause by replacing the oestrogen and progesterone hormones that the body no longer produces.

The most common form of HRT medication is a daily tablet, but it can also be taken via applying a skin patch or gel medication to the skin or a small pellet under the skin.

With some required to take a combination of both progesterone and oestrogen, they must pay for separate charges. Others can be advised to take HRT for over five years or even longer, meaning the treatment can amount to hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Campaigners say this can act as a financial barrier than can put some women off seeking treatment and “prices others out altogether”.

Supporting the Bill, the Ginsburg Women’s Health Board, an organisation campaigning to close the gender health gap, are calling on the Government to deliver a “more equal and effective healthcare system for women”.

Part of this would see HRT treatment exempt from NHS prescription charges to “ensure all women who require it are not unfairly financially penalised” for seeking treatment.

Mika Simmons, who is part of the Ginsburg Women’s Health Board’s #FreeHRT campaign, started taking HRT earlier this year.

Menopause Bill: Women call for HRT to be made free in England ahead of crucial vote
© Provided by Evening Standard Mika Simmons wants to see HRT prescription charges scrapped in England (Mika Simmons)

Before taking the medication, Ms Simmons said she experienced a whole host of “weird symptoms” including feeling like ants were crawling under her skin and being easily irritated.

But since taking HRT she said she feels “like a completely different person”.

Recalling her first outing to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription, the actress and filmmaker got our her card and paid, admitting “I didn’t think anything of it”.

It was only later when she had a discussion about HRT prescription charges, with colleagues at the Ginsburg Women’s Health Board, that she really thought about what this meant.

She said: “How could I not even have questioned that I should be paying for it? HRT is something that is an absolute essential for me to continue to live freely as a women, to live my life and do my work to the best of my ability. Of course it should be free.”

It will mean that women are being protected

Mika Simmons

Ms Simmons continued: “I believe there are many women in this country who, that added cost to them, will be a chore. Also, making it free will help to end the shame and stigma around menopause.

“If the bill passes on Friday, I believe it will be the very first time that menopause will have been legislated anywhere in the world. It will mean that women are being protected.”

Another Londoner who wants to see the end to HRT prescription charges is 56-year-old Deborah Killingback, from Hampstead.

Menopause Bill: Women call for HRT to be made free in England ahead of crucial vote
© Provided by Evening Standard Deborah Killingback co-founded the ‘Hot Flush Club’ for women to share their perimenopausal journeys (Deborah Killingback)

Three years ago Ms Killingback co-founded the ‘Hot Flush Club’, a forum for women to share their perimenopausal experiences and share advice with one another.

Running the site, she said she speaks to up 30 women per day who are seeking advice that they feel they are not getting through traditional routes.

While the former actress and theatrical agent no longer takes HRT due to health reasons, she is advocating for it to be free for women in England.

She said: “It’s what we’ve been asking for because it is an expensive treatment. There are three different prescriptions that women can have every single month, that’s a massive amount for women.

“I’ve got friends that pay up to £30 per month just for their HRT. That, over a whole year, is quite a lot of money for women just to stay feeling ‘normal’, just to function, because these are working women as well.

“If they don’t have a normal working life, that’s it. A lot of women are leaving industries at menopause age because they cannot sustain the symptoms. So that’s the added cost of HRT, we need to factor it all in.”

At present only one in ten women in the UK are on HRT even though a survey found nine out of 10 felt menopause was severe enough to impact their working life, while a separate paper found that the UK could be losing 14 million work days a year due to menopause.

For Ms Killingback, the Bill is the first step in a wider journey to “have a better women’s health system”.

She said: “We need a massive overhaul of women’s health, not just free HRT. Because I didn’t know anything about perimenopause when I went into it about five years ago, I just thought I was getting depressed.

“It’s really not recognised that it isn’t just hot flushes, or your period stopping. The mental health side is chronic.

“We need much better education and expertise out there on the menopause.”

Labour’s Carolyn Harris said: “It is crucial we get this Bill over the line on Friday. “HRT is a lifeline for so many women going through menopause. Menopause is not a choice – half the population go through it, so it is essential that everyone can access the treatment they need.”

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