Around half of women suffering worrying menopause symptoms say they had no option but to pay for private healthcare, according to our study shared with The Independent newspaper.
The newspaper says the private treatment option is necessary because they are not getting correct prescriptions or proper support from their own family doctors.
(The full news story is behind the Independent’s paywall, but up to five free articles can be read by registering. A summary of the main points of the article follows)
Because the treatment can cost thousands of pounds, some women are racking up debt or are forced to borrow from families or friends.
Up to 3.4 million affected women in the UK alone – mostly aged between 50 and 64 – have symptoms ranging between heart palpitations and hot flushes to depression, anxiety and vaginal pain.
Of 600 polled by the Menopause Support Network, 48 per cent felt they had no option but to pay for private care.
Diane Danzebrink, who’s network is currently helping almost 20,000 women a month, said the fact women were forced to go private was a “national disgrace”.
Quoted in the Independent, she said: “A lot of GPs don’t have adequate menopause education.
“The GP is the gatekeeper of health. You have to get past the GP to any specialist service. So if your GP doesn’t recognise your physical, psychological or cognitive symptoms as menopausal then they won’t refer you.
“The option is go home and suffer in silence, which a lot of women do. But more and more women are becoming aware that there is specialist private menopause healthcare out there.”
She added that not getting proper support is exerting an “incredibly detrimental effect on women’s quality of life”.
Ms Danzebrink, a psychotherapist and menopause expert, said she occasionally hears of doctors refusing to give women Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – often telling the woman they are too young for it due to still being in their 40s, or that they cannot have it as they are still having periods.
But she warned this advice is wrong and infringes National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance – evidence-based recommendations for NHS healthcare in England.
“If you can’t get access to HRT via the NHS route and you know that is what you need and want, you don’t have any choice but to go private,” she added.
Ms Danzebrink, who for a number of years has called for all GPs to have compulsory menopause training, told The Independent that the initial appointment can cost up to £300 but follow-up and sometimes additional private prescription fees can be required.
GPs can refuse to take over the patient’s care and carry on prescribing what their menopause specialist has advised, meaning they are forced to keep paying for private prescriptions and follow-up care, she added.
Ms Danzebrink says this has happened to ‘hundreds’ of women across the UK, at the very least.
“If GPs were better educated in menopause, then women would not need to return six, seven or eight times,” she told the newspaper. “That would save GPs time, NHS resources, and a huge amount of stress for the patient.”
She said she knew one woman who had several relatives chip in £10 and £20 so she had enough for her initial private menopause appointment, while another woman had been forced to cancel a post-lockdown holiday away with her daughter due to having to spend the money on a private menopause appointment.
Many women had to pay for these appointments on credit cards because they don’t have the funds,” Ms Danzebrink said. “So they are going to be paying off credit card debt over time.”
Freedom of Information requests carried out by Ms Danzebrink found around four in 10 medical schools in the UK do not have mandatory menopause education on the curriculum.
The story quotes Rachel Chumley, a 49-year-old, who said she had to resort to taking out a credit card to fund her private specialist menopause healthcare.
She added: “I started getting what I now know as perimenopause symptoms two years ago. This started with dizziness and anxiety. I went to the doctors and was diagnosed with vertigo.
“This lasted for months. I paid private to see an ear nose and throat specialist and was told it was probably an inner ear infection. More symptoms followed again. I had depression, joint pain, migraines.”
Ms Chumley said a friend who was going through perimenopause – the time just before the menopause starts – suggested she also could be experiencing it so she consulted her GP on three separate occasions.
“I asked if it could be the menopause,” she added. “One female GP said, ‘No, it can’t possibly be – you are still having periods.’ Another female GP told me it’s something us women just need to go through and HRT is not helpful and causes cancer. My symptoms got so bad, including having time off work.”
The Independent article also quotes Dr Heather Currie, the spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) who runs a specialist menopause clinic. She said it made her “sad that this is the situation women are finding themselves in.”
The trustee and former chair of the British Menopause Society was also quoted as saying: “Women shouldn’t have to seek advice privately. There is a lot of work which is going on in NHS and there are a lot of primary care teams that do a good job. But we need to make sure there are adequate appropriate services in the NHS.”
Her comments come after Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, introduced legislation to parliament seeking to overhaul “menopause rights, entitlements and education”.
The Independent says a spokesperson for the government has been contacted for comment.