DAVINA McCALL: It's time for men to join and help end the HRT crisis

DAVINA McCALL: It’s time for husbands, brothers and sons to join us… and bring an end to the HRT crisis

Recently I heard a story about a lady I will call Natalie, who was in her late 40s when she was hit by depression and anxiety so profound that she was confined to her bed for a month. She didn’t have the energy even to get up and make a cup of tea.

As a result, she lost everything –her fiancé left her, she was fired from her job and she had to leave her home because she could no longer afford to maintain it. Her friends and immediate family were so frightened for her that they would not allow her to be on her own, anxious that history might repeat itself, as Natalie’s mother had taken her own life at the age of 45.

You might wonder what on earth could have plunged Natalie into such despair? For some of you it may be a shock to read it was the menopause, although others among you who have battled its debilitating symptoms – or watched others do so – may not be so surprised.

Davina McCall is a passionate supporter for improving the availability of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for women in the UK

Davina McCall (pictured at a protest for HRT charges) has a Channel 4 documentary about menopause and HRT coming out tomorrow at 9pm

Natalie’s story is only one of many that I have read on websites and in the WhatsApp messages with which I have been inundated since speaking out about my own menopause in last year’s documentary and on my social media.

Many pierce my heart, like the Scottish woman I interview for my new documentary that airs tomorrow, who told the heart-breaking story of the moment she was in a car and wondered what to drive into to kill herself.

These stories aren’t uncommon – and it’s borne out by statistics. It’s no coincidence that the highest rate of suicide among women is between the ages of 45 and 55 – the time when women go through this life-changing transition.

Other symptoms, which can last for years, include hot flushes; night sweats; migraines; palpitations; dry mouth, eyes, skin and vagina; brain fog and aching joints. Again the statistics make clear that these symptoms can affect quality of life to the extent that some women leave their jobs and their relationships fail.

The good news is that treatment is available in the form of HRT, which can help manage all symptoms, replenishing vital hormones that your body has lost.

HRT treatment has been in short supply for women in the UK, something Davina said isn’t melodramatic to call ‘a crisis’

HRT also plays an active part in disease management, massively reducing your risk of dementia, motor neurone diseases, Parkinson’s and MS, as well as reducing your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that for many women it’s transformative. It was for me when I started taking it seven years ago, and it was for Natalie, who – after finally being persuaded to see her doctor – was immediately placed on a high dose of HRT and who is now able to face the world again.

Many other women will testify to its miraculous qualities. If it’s available that is.

We’ve all read the news reports about women bartering their diminishing supplies over the internet, or trying to buy them from unknown – and very often untrustworthy – suppliers abroad on the black market. I would urge women not to do it, but it’s an indicator of how desperate they are to get their hands on HRT treatment.

Many women are nothing short of terrified at being without it and I don’t think it is being melodramatic to say this is a crisis.

Nor is it the first time this has happened: there have been on-and-off shortages of HRT for years, and it’s not been uncommon in the past for women to turn to the private sector, paying through the nose for something which should be available from their doctor for a quarter of the price.

Davina has shared how the menopause affected her prior to getting HRT treatment, admitting that it made her ‘feel invisible’ as she couldn’t speak to anyone about it (pictured showing her HRT therapy)

Today, though, the situation has got so bad that even being prepared to pay for HRT doesn’t guarantee women will get it. I can’t imagine the same apparent torpor being shown by the authorities if this were another form of medication.

Can you imagine the outcry if there was a shortage of insulin? It would be all hands to the pump, and rightly so. Yet only a relatively small percentage are diabetic, but the menopause happens to 52 per cent of the population. That’s more than half of us, potentially facing a crisis at some point.

Of course, not everyone has a terrible time. Menopause is different for everyone, and some women sail through with barely a hot flush or flash of temper. Lucky them!

I certainly wasn’t one of those. I started with symptoms around ten years ago after suffering brain fog and anxiety to the extent I thought I was losing my mind. In my mid-40s, I was considered by my doctor to be too young to be menopausal, so I took the decision to consult a gynaecologist. They put me on HRT patches which give me much needed oestrogen – the hormone whose rapid depletion in menopause causes so many of our problems – and a coil which gives me progesterone by way of balance.

I felt better almost instantly and have been vocal ever since about the fact that I intend to take HRT until the day I die.

But I also know I was lucky: too many women are going to their GPs and getting diagnosed with depression even though guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) say that if a woman over 45 is presenting as depressed or anxious then they should be offered HRT.

Instead many doctors are routinely giving out anti-depressants, which don’t work, and are simply a waste of time and money. It’s one of so many injustices in this country, where it can sometimes feel that, when it comes to the health system, women are second-class citizens.

It’s hard to see it any differently when you learn that in Scotland, doctors prescribe the oral tablet form of HRT, a synthetic version that is linked – although only fractionally so – to a slightly incrementally higher risk of breast cancer compared with the bio-identical hormone gel, patch or spray.

The reason? Expense of course: it costs £18 more per year per person to provide the gel.

Around the country, different regions are offering different types of HRT – a postcode lottery that is nothing short of a scandal.

There is some evidence, too, that there is a divide running along wealth lines, with more affluent areas getting better access to a wider range of HRT options.

It’s one reason I’ve decided to use my platform in the public eye to campaign for change. It’s a campaign I would urge everyone to join – including our sons, brothers and husbands.

I don’t see this as a feminist issue, it’s an everyone issue. All those women going through the menopause have families, or work colleagues or friends.

Madelaine McTernan has been appointed as ‘HRT Tsar’ to help improve the supply of HRT

It may not be their bodies but it is still their problem. The best thing you can do if you want to make noise is join us on menopausemandate.com because we are going to empower ourselves to make a change.

That means young women too. They may not be able to imagine it now, but they will all be menopausal one day.

Happily, there is hope. Many brave female MPs have talked in Parliament about their own experiences, while the wondrous ball of energy that is Carolyn Harris MP, is proving to be an absolute juggernaut in driving for change – putting the menopause at the forefront of the government agenda. I am pleased to see that it is viewed as a cross-party issue, one on which everyone can agree.

I also welcome the appointment of Madelaine McTernan as ‘HRT Tsar’. Her success with the pioneering Vaccines Taskforce – on which she played a leading role – bodes well.

We know there’s a problem. Now we need a solution, and quickly.

The first port of call is talking to the companies who supply HRT, to find out what is happening in the supply chain, how those problems can be ironed out, and what strategies can be put in place to make sure this never happens again.

It is unsustainable. And it is destroying lives.

Davina McCall: Sex, Mind And The Menopause is on Channel 4 tomorrow at 9pm. 

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