We need to break the stigma of menopause and help women thrive at every stage of their working life

We need to break the stigma of menopause and help women thrive at every stage of their working life

The NHS is the largest employer of women in the country – one million people work for the NHS and up to 260,000 would be approaching or going through menopause, and for many this can be a difficult transition.

So it is good that we are taking action to support them.

Women approaching or going through menopause shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at work or embarrassed about talking about a transition that’s part of life.

With symptoms ranging from muscle aches and joint pains to hot flashes, anxiety, trouble sleeping and brain fog – this obviously has a huge impact on your ability to work and go about your daily life.

Yet this is still a taboo subject, many women suffer in silence – they feel too embarrassed to bring it up, or experience a lack of support when they do.

In fact, we know that six in ten women with menopausal symptoms say it negatively impacts their work and research shows that one in ten women leave work when they don’t want to, due to a lack of appropriate support.

This has to stop.

No woman should think that their only option is to turn their backs on their careers, and it is our responsibility as leaders to ensure that this no longer happens.

Menopause is not a health condition, it’s a phase of life and I want all women facing this transition in the NHS to have access to the right support to stay in work and thrive.

That’s why we’ve launched new national guidelines to help women through menopause – to raise awareness and support teams in taking practical action in the workplace.

Simple steps like flexible work patterns, fans to make temperatures more comfortable, cooler uniforms and staff training can make a big difference and I want this to happen across the board.

This is not only a matter of respect for our staff, but also an investment in our workforce, future sustainability and the quality of patient care.

It’s no secret that the NHS needs more workers – with around 130,000 vacancies, staff retention will be a key part of our future workforce plan.

And so supporting women to stay in work is absolutely essential to help us with the future challenges for the NHS.

We are facing a busy winter period with the threat of a twindemic – with flu and covid – and we must continue to make progress on the pandemic backlogs as we have already virtually eliminated two-year waits for care.

Our guidance is purposely designed to be transferable to other workplaces too, so I hope organizations and women outside the NHS can also benefit from it.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics in 2020 showed that for the first time in the UK there were more women aged 60 to 64 in employment than not, with the share of older women in employment rising by 51 per cent over a decade.

So while we should prioritize women feeling better and more confident, it’s also good for the economy.

We also know that when employees are happier and healthier at work, it can also lead to better outcomes for patients.

There is already some fantastic work happening locally within the NHS to support women with menopausal symptoms that we can all learn from.

Last week, the University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust introduced the first “passport to menopause” to support women at this stage of their lives and offers workplace adaptations including ventilators, lighter uniforms and changes in work patterns.

In Norfolk, Queen Elizabeth Hospital provides specific training for managers and staff, runs regular menopause clinics run by a consultant and nurse, and is accredited by Henpicked as a Menopause Friendly Workplace – becoming one of the first companies in the UK to include this in his job descriptions.

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust have set up a private Facebook group where colleagues share experiences and support, and hold menopause networking events, with guest speakers such as gynecologists on hand to educate and raise awareness.

Sherwood Forest Hospitals Trust has developed and implemented its own menopause strategy and since its launch has expanded occupational health references to include menopause and stress or anxiety.

These small steps can make a huge difference.

While menopause is a stage of life, it shouldn’t be viewed as “just” a stage of life where women have to grin and bear it.

We need to break the stigma, talk about the burden menopause can bring and, crucially, increase support and help more women thrive at every stage of their working life.

Starting the conversation is the first step. I hope employers take advantage of this new guidance and take steps to support the hundreds of thousands of women across the country.

And in the NHS, it’s good that we care for the women who work every day to care for others.

Amanda Pritchard is the CEO of NHS England

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