A new health network is calling for action to ensure women experiencing the menopause have equal access to specialist services and are treated fairly by employers.

The Wales Menopause Network believes too many women are suffering needlessly due to a lack of awareness of the menopause, stigma in the workplace and patchy treatment as a result of there being a lack of appropriately funded menopause provision in Wales.

The network was set up by a group of health professionals passionate about ensuring women in Wales receive equitable access to evidence-based menopause care and are treated with dignity at work.

Dr Helen Munro, a consultant in community sexual and reproductive healthcare with a special interest in menopause, commented: “There is no set standards for delivery of specialist menopause service in Wales and, in some areas, there is no provision at all. In the pockets of good service, there are often long waiting lists and these services are often provided by self-driven health professionals who have taken an interest in menopause. This is not good enough. Menopause will affect 51% of the population at some stage. Understanding of menopause and access to treatment should be a fundamental right for every woman.

“Many GPs are under significant pressure and are over stretched, particularly in the aftermath of Covid, while there is no dedicated funding for specialist menopause services or the training required. If the gap is to be filled, there needs to be designated funding to support this new, vital provision as only then will there be the impetus for action.”

To mark Menopause Month in October, the network is holding its inaugural All Wales Menopause Conference to tackle misconceptions around the menopause, raise awareness of symptoms and complex needs and to inspire employers to take action in the workplace.

While the full day conference is targeted at health professionals, organisers are calling for employers and the public to join them virtually for its open sessions, which will be livestreamed, to break down the stigma surrounding menopause and create equality for women in the workplace.

Wales Menopause Network cofounder Dr Jayne Forrester-Paton, a British Menopause Society accredited menopause specialist and GP, commented: “Many women report struggling with menopausal symptoms at work, losing confidence in their skills and abilities. Many women feel a stigma discussing their symptoms and this can create a wall between women and their employers meaning conversations are not taking place and the support they need isn’t there.

“Worryingly, as women frequently suffer menopause in silence, their work can be affected and too often it leads to them taking time off, reducing hours or even leaving the workplace. This not only has significant personal consequences for the individual but has an impact on businesses and a cost to the wider economy. We want to help to empower women to seek help and speak out. Meanwhile, employers also need support and guidance in how best to help their employees, to have open conversations and menopause in the workplace practices to support their staff and retain talent.”

The All Wales Menopause Conference will held at the International Convention Centre, Newport, on Saturday October 8, and will be livestreamed between 9am-12.30pm for the public and employers to join the audience.

Speakers include two women who tell their menopause story along with Lisa Nicolls and Lara Morris from the charity Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales as well as union speakers Rhianydd Williams, from TUC Cymru, and Helen Burton, from Unison. They will also be joined by Eluned Morgan, MS, Minister for Health and Social Services, and Jenny Rathbone MS, Chair of the cross-party group on women’s health, talking about the Women’s Health Plan for Wales and how menopause is becoming a government priority.