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With such a high proportion of female staff, it’s key for NHS organisations to put in the right support for clinical, clerical and support staff experiencing menopause.

The demographics of the NHS workforce – 77% of workers are female – speak for themselves in terms of the need for menopause support. When we consider that between 2011 and 2018, a staggering 56,000 people left their NHS jobs to find better work-life balance, we can see what a costly drain on services lack of support can be, as a number of those leaving will have been menopausal women. Whilst we can’t confirm the full reason, the Wellbeing of Women survey in 2016 said that 1 in 4 women considered leaving work during their menopause.

Thankfully, a number of NHS organisations have recognised this, and brought in their programmes of training, awareness and support. It’s particularly important in the light of Covid-19, with more staff needing to wear PPE (not a friend to hot flushes) and face masks for the duration of their working day.

What kind of support can the NHS put in place for colleagues? Here are three excellent examples of those who have really taken the initiative and are keeping the drumbeat going.

Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust

Suzanne Banks CBE is the former Chief Nurse of Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust. She explains why she introduced menopause guidance into the organisation.

“As I went through menopause myself, I found I was experiencing symptoms like brain fog, hot flushes and joint aches and pains. So it was a subject close to my heart. When I first started looking into this, back in 2017, we had a workforce of 5,000. 81% of our permanent staff were female, 46% over the age of 45 and 35% over 50. So there was a really core group of women going through menopause, about to, or post menopausal.

“I spoke with colleagues from other organisations to see what guidance they had in place. But nobody was doing anything. So I decided to. I was conscious of the work Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace were doing, so I got in touch to find out how we could educate support staff, do it well and get it embedded.

“They also connected me with Prof. Jo Brewis, co author of the government report Menopause transition: effects on women’s economic participation. There hadn’t been an intervention study in an NHS organisation looking at the impact of menopause education, so she followed 12 members of staff over a year-long period to assess these impacts.

“Our project team was fantastic, and included medics, allied health professionals, occupational health, HR, trade unions, comms and a brilliant project lead. We got menopause out there in conversations, bulletins – whenever I could mention it, I did. We purchased some Menopause: the change for the better books with a #passiton message, and also used #menoPAUSE4Thought across all our comms.

“The estates team were engaged with the project, as we talked to them about things like water, fans, use of gardens etc. We developed guidelines with best practice about flexible working and environmental support, and we sourced new uniforms for those that needed them. Menopause training and awareness is now part of managers’ training and also induction.

“Our first menopause conference was on World Menopause Day in 2018. It was oversubscribed, the fastest conference we’ve ever filled. They included a managers’ and a colleagues’ session, and it was buzzing. Feedback was that it was brilliant, fun, informative, there were tears – of joy and also relief, as people realised they’re not alone. Importantly, a male board member opened and closed the event. We wanted to really get across that this isn’t a ‘women’s issue’, but for everyone.

“Our second conference was opened out across the community for our colleagues outside the organisation. Menopause has now become a talking point, much more normalised. We have monthly team support groups, and are implementing the recommendations from Prof. Jo Brewis. Plus we are committed to holding regular conferences.

“My top tips would be to get a board level champion, and make sure they’re involved. Don’t underestimate the psychological symptoms of menopause – and their longevity. And know your demographics so you can make a clear business case.”

Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Kings Lynn

Amanda-Jane Weir is Head of Staff Engagement at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. As part of their wider health and wellbeing programme, she looked at introducing support for women’s health. She explains how this turned into a full menopause programme of support:

“When I looked at our demographics, I found that 51% of women in our workforce fitted the average age range of menopause. I delved deeper to find out what staff wanted, and a number got in touch, happy to share their story.

Our aim was to normalise menopause at work, so everyone felt comfortable talking about it. Some senior staff shared their own stories via videos, which we shared across our social media and intranet. Great communications and engagement has been key throughout our campaign, opening up the conversation and getting the drumbeat going. The stories had a massive impact and helped people realise they’re not alone, and our organisations cares.

“We got in touch with Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace for awareness and manager training sessions. The first session had over 190 attendees. We’ve also run a Q&A session, with specialists across the organisation talking about their own area of expertise in relation to menopause.

“We’re now planning to introduce a referral process for staff so they can go to a menopause clinic in house. This is for everyone in our community, including our LGBT+ colleagues. Not a week goes by where we don’t put some comms out about menopause – it’s about keeping the conversations going and flowing.

“For me, the most important thing is to make it all as fun and interactive as possible. This isn’t a passing fad. It’s something that’s going to be sustainable. It’s for you, it’s here to stay.”

Northampton General Hospital

Anne-Marie Dunkley is Health and Wellbeing Manager at Northampton General Hospital. They also introduced menopause support at work as part of their health and wellbeing programme in 2019.

“We wondered if our colleagues would be interested in attending menopause workshops in addition to our comprehensive health and wellbeing programme, so we sent out a survey to gauge opinion. The response was so overwhelming I knew I needed to do something. I contacted HR to find out our demographics; 80% of our workforce is female, with 34% aged over 45.

“Working with Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, we held two workshops. They were the most popular initiative we’ve ever run, off-the-scale amazing! There were so many people opening up, and lots of lightbulb moments. It was great to see a number of male colleagues on our workshops too.

“In addition, we held a line managers’ workshop to demonstrate how they could support staff and have the right conversations.

“We’re early on in our process, but these workshops have really got things going. We were so keen to continue conversations and the buzz that the workshops had created that we held a menopause café, where people could open up and have informal conversations and share their experiences.

We decided it would be great if we could run training sessions ourselves to reach as many of our staff as possible, taking into account varying shift patterns. Along with other trusts we’ve completed  ‘train the trainer’ sessions with Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace. We’re now on the verge of launching our in-house menopause sessions – 2021 is going to be very exciting!

“It’s been a wonderful journey so far, and we’re looking forward to continuing it.”

Here’s a summary of top tips:

  • Senior stakeholder engagement makes a big difference and enables everyone to talk openly about menopause.
  • Good communication and engagement is key – talk about menopause, share stories and keep it going.
  • Don’t forget the training of all employees. It’s not a women’s topic, everyone needs to know about menopause. It’s a lifeskill as well as important inside work.
  • Set up support groups and informal conversations. In the NHS ask your own experts to get involved too putting together a calendar of events and extra support.
  • Look at the facilities and uniforms too. Some small tweaks can make a big difference.

Get started! It’s time all organisations did this, it’s the right thing to do and any employer who cares about their employees should be making this a priority.

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