Taking the Lead on the Menopause by Carolyn Harris MPApr 30, 2022
Ahead of her visit to Jersey for a talk on menopause support, Carolyn Harris MP spoke to Tom Ogg about the ‘taskforce’ she has set up to raise awareness of the issue.
LABOUR politician Carolyn Harris will be among those taking part in a pair of interactive talks on the menopause this week.
Titled Take the Lead on Menopause, the panel discussions will be held in Guernsey and Jersey on consecutive days, with the latter taking place at the Royal Yacht Hotel on Friday 6 May.
Both talks will see the Swansea East MP taking to the stage alongside others who are likewise invested in improving education on the menopause, among them Vitality40Plus founder Trudi Roscouet and Daniel Read, who is senior counsel at Walkers Jersey.
‘Trudi got in touch with me and invited me to come over to the Channel Islands to take part,’ says Carolyn, chatting over the phone from her UK offices.
‘I know Trudi has done a lot of work in Jersey in terms of drawing attention to what local employers should be doing in order to support women who are going through the menopause. ‘It’s been many years since I’ve been over to Jersey,’ she continues.
‘I think I was eight years of age when I was last there. We stayed in St Helier and I have very, very fond memories of the Island. I’m looking forward to coming back.’
Some will no doubt be familiar with Carolyn due to the success of the ‘menopause taskforce’, which she cochairs in the UK, and which aims to persuade the UK government to work towards changing the cost of hormone replacement therapy prescriptions and raising awareness of menopause-related issues.
‘I think the taskforce is just one link in a bigger picture,’ says Carolyn. ‘There is a huge amount of campaign work going on, with different campaign groups asking for different things, but it all adds up to a whole raft of things which are aimed at making life better for menopausal women.
‘I set up an all-party parliamentary group, which is something we use in UK parliament to raise issues outside of official legislation, and it is this which is known as the taskforce.’
The taskforce encourages those in power to consider the role that education, training, workplace policies and peer groups can play in supporting women during what is, for many, an extremely challenging time in their life, both mentally and physically.
‘I live in Wales and I thought about how women here can have free prescriptions for HRT [hormone replacement therapy], as can women in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not women in England,’ says Carolyn. ‘So I had this idea to ask the UK government to make HRT prescriptions free for women in England.’
According to Carolyn, the government initially objected to doing this because a number of other medical conditions require paid prescriptions and they didn’t want to be seen to be making an exception for menopausal women.
‘And yet things like Viagra are free, which got me a bit p***ed off to be honest,’ she says. ‘I asked them if they would consider reducing the cost of HRT prescriptions, and they said they couldn’t do that either.’
Undeterred, Carolyn continued pressuring the government: ‘I got them to look at what they could do to make life easier for menopausal women, and I came up with this term “taskforce” – and, lo and behold, the government said “yeah, we’ll do that”.
‘The idea of the taskforce is that I cochair with the Tory minister and we look at all aspects of the menopause in every single government department and think about what we could do to ensure menopausal women are considered in social policies.’
Sadly, Carolyn says that she isn’t overly convinced that the government are fully committed to the taskforce.
‘I’m a bit cross at the moment with the way they have dealt with HRT prescriptions. I do think that this will come from grassroots. There are so many people like Trudi who have identified the problem and I think we will change this through public opinion. After all, no government wants to be up against a mass rally of public opinion, especially when you’ve people like Davina McCall and Gabby Logan and Nicola Sturgeon all talking about it [the menopause].
‘What we’ve done is awoken women to the realisation that, when they’ve thought they had early onset dementia or thought they were going insane or thought they were having a nervous breakdown, as I did, it could well be down to the fact that they’re menopausal. And, because we’ve made women aware of this, many women are now getting quite politicised over it.
‘What we are asking for is not earthshatteringly expensive,’ she continues. ‘It is simply about respect and it is about companies and the government actually realising that there are very easy solutions to this, and that women’s health has got to stop being an afterthought and instead become a priority.’
Asked if she feels that there is still misunderstanding surrounding the issue, Carolyn replies: ‘There is a lack of knowledge about the menopause, yes. If there was a campaign to raise awareness of what the menopause is – what are the symptoms, what to expect, and so on – then I suspect more women would have come forward [prior to now]. We are putting this message to the UK government and what they now need to do is stop putting the onus on campaigners and start taking responsibility for raising awareness, through public health campaigns, through employment campaigns and through all aspects of policy making. If they were to do this then they would be giving women a bit of justice.’
It would be remiss not to ask Carolyn about the forthcoming local elections in the UK and whether she believes Labour leader Keir Starmer is the right man to lead the party. ‘I think Keir is an absolutely phenomenal leader,’ she says. ‘I don’t want him to be leader of the opposition, I want him to be Prime Minister, because this country is desperately in need of some stability, honesty and integrity, which we are lacking dreadfully at the moment.
‘I think Keir is the man who can bring that gravitas to what is one of the most important positions in global politics. The Tories are trying hard to minimise the greatness of Keir Starmer, but they need to look at where they’re going wrong.’
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