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Navigating the Menopause with the NHS

Today I want to talk about my experience of going through the menopause and dealing with the NHS jungle.

Basically, when I started going through the menopause, I started going to my local GP, knowing that I was probably going through the menopause, (because you know your own body, age and that things can change). If we have ticked everything written in the NICE guidelines, because we have maybe 24 of the 34 symptoms, we know that we are probably entering the menopause. The sad fact is that my (and every GP) GP has only eight minutes to talk, it is very hard, to explain everything, every single “side effect” that menopause brings within that short period of time, and most GP’s also don’t have a lot of information about the menopause or HRT. In fact, they are not there to discuss patches or gels, or tablets, there are a lot of different formulations and one can be more suitable than another, as it depends which stage of the menopause you are in, but unfortunately, they don’t have enough time to go into details, they rarely organise blood tests or thyroid tests in many cases. I personally like to know where I am in terms of my hormones. Women like to know where their oestrogen level is. I think it is always good to have a starting point, also your doctor (GP) is not allowed to give you testosterone, because it can affect the respiratory system, so the only way you can get testosterone to treat menopausal symptoms is if you are referred to a menopause clinic. The waiting list for London clinics is about nine months. For example, from my experience, in London the Royal Free is a good clinic, and the Chelsea and Westminster also, but you can also go to private clinics there are plenty of good ones, but the waiting lists are not much different and it can be expensive (moreover you can’t get bioidenticals on the NHS).

It is still very hard to get the right medicine, and every woman is facing this issue. It is therefore pivotal to be able to get the right medication and as every woman is different and has different needs with regard to medication. It makes me really upset and angry that women have to suffer so much without proper individual help. The help in many cases is just not there, it takes months, and months at times to get on a good treatment plan that can get you back on track as soon as possible. In some cases, you can’t even get the medicine that you require because there are also shortages. I picked five or six menopause specialists and they have a waiting list of six months also, but also with this option the cost has to be considered, they are on average about £250-280, with the blood tests costing as much as £700 and then you need follow up appointments. It is a lot of money, but if you want to feel great again, you need to see a specialist, especially if you are feeling so bad and just need to get yourself back.

The good thing is, that there is lot of people talking about this out there openly, a lot of doctors are meeting each other, speaking to the relevant to government officials, and they are bringing this subject to the forefront. GP’s are only taught about menopause for three hours in seven years of medical training. They get seven hours of nutrition training. The NHS could be saving millions if doctors had proper training on more topics to prevent issues occurring rather than acting reactively.

I have sat on the board of doctors for private companies, they do not cover menopause topics. Some insurance companies are now looking at trying to do something, to approach this in a way that can save money in the long term. They know that this is the only way forward.

The strongest message it should get out there is that “Menopause is not a disease, but all of the symptoms that come with it can turn into a disease, even causing mental health issues.

Whichever way that you look at it, it is hard to get treatment. Even if you go to a private doctor, as I did, (£180 for a private GP) they didn’t understand what I was going through, and I was completely shocked. They weren’t even taking what I was saying seriously especially the older GP’s who haven’t updated their training in this subject.

So that’s it ladies. We need to make our voice louder to get the proper help that all of us deserve. Because menopause matters, and we matter.

Meg Mathews Interviewed by Ornella Cappellari