— Why are women still paying for HRT? —


6th September 2021 

Today the Ginsburg Women’s Health Board (GWHB), established to help close the gender gap in UK healthcare, announce the launch of their #FreeHRT campaign for free access to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for women going through the menopause in England. 

The GWHB is calling for HRT treatment to be exempt from National Health Service prescription charges, to ensure all women who require it are not unfairly financially penalised when seeking treatment to minimise the emotional, physical and long-term medical side effects of menopause. This comes alongside the growing demand for better awareness of and support for those experiencing menopause, and a need to ensure women of all ages are empowered with the knowledge on how to demand effective treatment for gender related health issues throughout their life – from puberty through to menopause.

Every single woman in in the UK will experience menopause and it can bring several uncomfortable symptoms with its onset, ranging from hot flushes and vaginal dryness through to mood swings and depression. HRT is a treatment that relieves these symptoms by replacing the hormones at a lower level as women approach the menopause. Women entering the menopause are also at risk of long-term medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, which HRT has been proven to relieve and prevent (here).

At present, in England it is currently subject to NHS prescription charges of £9.35 per item. However, as many women require a combination of both progesterone and oestrogen, they must pay two separate charges. 

With many women advised to take HRT for over five years, or even longer to treat long-term medical conditions, this essential treatment can amount to hundreds or even thousands of pounds; a financial barrier that can put some women off seeking treatment and price others out altogether. This cost remains despite the potential savings that could be made in not having to treat the long-term medical health risks of menopause, such as osteoporosis.

Research has repeatedly shown that women are facing huge hurdles in accessing help and treatment for menopause symptoms; it was reported that 59% of women visited their GP more than twice and 18% more than six times before they received adequate help or advice for their symptoms (here). 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. 

Not only is there a sound economic argument for alleviating menopause symptoms, with an independent paper finding that the UK could be losing 14 million work days a year due to menopause (here), but it could be life-saving. In one survey of almost 3,000 women, two-thirds were offered antidepressants for menopausal symptoms; another NHS cost that could be eliminated through effective treatment. 

Co-Founder Dr Geeta Nargund, Senior NHS consultant and fertility pioneer, commented:
“Having run a specialist menopause and HRT clinic in one of London’s biggest teaching hospitals for 25 years I’ve personally met countless women suffering not just with menopause symptoms but also the difficulty of how to pay for HRT. The pill and pregnancy services are already rightfully provided to women free of charge and, as a significant and considerable stage of every woman’s life, there is no reason that the menopause should be any different – this is a case of basic women’s health rights. Making HRT free to access is about improving women’s quality of life, not just prolonging it, and by doing so we will benefit families, the state and wider society.”

Co-Founder Mika Simmons, actress, filmmaker and founder of The Happy Vagina said: 
“Every single woman, 51% of the population, will be impacted by the menopause. But even more than that it also impacts the families and colleagues surrounding them. It is an unavoidable health issue that we should all be demanding free support for. We are in the midst of a menopause movement and it is incredible to see so many women demanding much overdue attention towards the menopause and its impact on women’s lives, but our health service must do more! We want to ensure women have ready access to the treatment they need and also feel empowered to seek it out.”

Co-Founder Nimco Ali, the prominent social activist and founder of The Five Foundation, added: 
“The menopause is a reality for women and not a choice. It is part of their lives and as such the NHS should be providing the healthcare women need to deal with it. It is medical misogyny to exclude HRT from prescriptions that are free.” 

Award winning author, war reporter and documentary film-maker Saira Shah said: 
“I can't believe that women in England are only receiving life-changing HRT treatment if they can afford to pay prescription charges. We absolutely must bring England into line with Scotland and Wales and allow women to access HRT for free.”

Actress and social activist Amanda Abbington added: 
“Thankfully, both birth control and the morning after pill are free to women on the NHS. Now, we need to make sure and push hard to ensure that HRT is also made free. 51% of the population will go through the menopause. With that in mind it is imperative that this percentage of the population should have easy and free access to HRT. The menopause can be a highly complicated, quite unsettling and, more often than not, incredibly difficult thing to go through and if it can be made any easier to navigate by having the option of taking HRT then it must be made free for women to access it on the NHS. It’s vital. And it would only serve to impact everyone in a positive and constructive and healthy way.”