The Scottish Government was today urged to end the "postcode lottery" in menopause care to ensure all Scottish women receive the health support they need.
Scottish Labour's health spokesperson Monica Lennon said she had written to Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, asking the government to take urgent action to give women better access to menopause care.
In a Holyrood debate on the menopause, she said only five of Scotland’s 14 regional health boards have a dedicated menopause clinic, while there is no standardised form of recording data on menopause care in Scotland, either at clinics or by GPs.
Symptoms of the menopause can range from tiredness, to clumsiness, to hot flushes and night sweats, palpitations, low mood, joint pain and anxiety. They can start a few months or years before a woman stops menstruating and around one in 10 women experience symptoms for up to 12 years, and sometimes longer.
“Women will experience menopause differently but it’s a fact of life and, wherever you live in Scotland, you should have fast access to advice and treatment if you need it," said Ms Lennon.
"Only five health boards in Scotland offer a dedicated menopause clinic and it’s unclear what support exists in the rest of the country. I raised this with the Scottish Government some months ago and I do welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is giving greater priority to the menopause agenda and it’s important that real change follows.
“We need swift action to improve women’s access to healthcare and their experience of menopause in the workplace.”
Ms Lennon was speaking as part of a debate around menopause and its impact on women in the workplace, brought to Holyrood by Scottish Government minister for older people, Christina McKelvie.
Ms McKelvie's motion, which was supported by all parties, said the "menopause has for too long been a taboo subject" and there was often "little understanding of the symptoms" and that awareness of the menopause would "help its impact be better understood and addressed."
During the debate, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she was happy to commit at looking at more training and education of primary care NHS staff in menopause symptoms and issues. She said: "It's important to recognise physical symptoms and the impact on our physical health but also the psychological effect on our mental health, not just on the symptoms but what to women the menopause means.
"There is a real need for wider education, in particular in primary care, where there are issues around assumptions made about women, and some of the misdiagnoses and failure to recognise the inter-relationship between menopause and other conditions and medication. So we do recognise that there is a need for additional training so that the understanding is there among the wider primary care workforce and I'm very happy to commit to looking at that again."
She added: "For the majority of women experiencing menopause symptoms appropriate advice and management services should be available within primary care services. There are also specific menopause clinics in NHS Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Grampian, Lothian and Tayside and in health boards there are specialist gynaecological services available. There are also a number of additional clinics in Glasgow, Clyde, Highland, South Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran and elsewhere."
Agnes Tolmie, Chair of the Scottish Women’s Convention, which is gathering the experiences of women across Scotland to change the view that menopause is just “a women’s issue”, said: “We are immensely proud of all the crucial work that has been undertaken to alleviate the stigma and misinformation around women’s experiences of menopause. It is essential that we highlight and give recognition to such an important issue in order to fully achieve women’s equality.”
And Alys Mumford, Communications Manager for women's organisation, Engender, said: “A significant proportion of Scotland’s population are currently going through the menopause, experiencing symptoms such as hot flushes, low mood, and anxiety.
“Despite this, there is still considerable stigma around the menopause, and a distinct lack of awareness of women’s experiences and needs in current policy frameworks. Now more than ever women are working while experiencing the menopause transition, but many employers do not have menopause-responsive workplaces.”