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Menopause Bill: Campaigners reveals horror symptoms

·5 min read
Menopause Bill: Campaigners reveals horror symptoms

Feeling like hundreds of scurrying ants were crawling all over her body was one of Mika Simmons’ stranger perimenopause symptoms.

The actress, who lives in Greenwich, also remembers feeling “snappish” while having no understanding of why she felt the way she did.

“The amount of things I’ve gone to the doctors about in my 40s, I now wonder whether that was something to do with perimenopause,” she said.

It was only after starting to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) earlier this year that she started to feel more like herself again.

Ms Simmons, who hosts the Happy Vagina podcast, said: "I've just started taking HRT and am responding really well to it. I feel like a completely different person."

Recalling the first time she picked up a prescription she admitted she thought nothing of paying for her medication, even though it was life-changing.

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.

“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.”

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

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

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

Ms Simmons said: “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.”

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.

Some women who are required to take a combination of both progesterone and oestrogen 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”.

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.”

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

Deborah Killingback co-founded the ‘Hot Flush Club’ for women to share their perimenopausal journeys (Deborah Killingback)
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.”

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