Moves to provide support for women in Ireland going through the menopause were stepped up last year with commitments to add three further specialist clinics — subsequently increased to five — to the dedicated unit which opened in the National Maternity Hospital, in Holles Street, Dublin, in December.
The subject came high on the political agenda when RTÉ’s LiveLine radio show dedicated five consecutive days to the topic, and continued to command headlines this spring when there was a critical shortage of HRT treatments in the Republic.
Our columnist Alison O’Connor reported: “Women are absolutely desperate and have been scouring pharmacies, some travelling to the North. Others are borrowing from friends in the hope of being able to pay them back in a few weeks, and doctors are struggling to prescribe alternatives when their patients contact them to say what they usually use is not in stock.”
The collapse in availability, particularly of oestrogen patches and gels, mirrored similar problems in Britain when demand increased following campaigning TV programmes by the broadcaster Davina McCall and lobbying by influential advocates such as Mariella Frostrup, and Penny Lancaster, wife of Rod Stewart.
More than 75% of women experience menopausal symptoms — one in four describe them as severe. In Ireland, most of the care is provided to women in their community led by their GP or practice nurse.
Across the Irish Sea and in the North further developments are taking place. MPs at Westminster are asking for the menopause to be designated as a “protected characteristic” in the UK Equality Act which would place duties on employers to provide reasonable adjustments for staff.
In parallel, HRT is to be offered over the counter for the first time after approval by regulatory authorities and is being welcomed as a “huge step forward” for women’s health.
The first product to be offered without a prescription is the Gina 10 microgram vaginal tablet which contains estradiol and will become available from September onwards. The tablets are for women aged 50 and over who have not had a period for at least one year. Pharmacists will use a checklist to ensure that the tablets are prescribed appropriately.
While such developments are seen as an assistance to under-pressure general practices it is also presented as an important move in widening access to treatment and providing greater control over choices. There will be more on the way.