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NHS Chief Executive opens up about her menopause experience

“We need to break the menopause taboo” – NHS Chief Executive opens up about her menopause experience

An NHS Trust Chief Executive has spoken candidly about her experience of the menopause and believes that we need to break the taboo to help retain NHS staff.

Sue Harriman, who trained as a nurse in the Royal Navy, has been Chief Executive at Solent NHS Trust since September 2014.

The Trust is hosting its first MenoPause event on Friday 4 October and has invited colleagues – both women and men – to talk openly about how the menopause has affected them, or someone they know, in a comfortable environment. They will also be signposted to help and support.

The event has proved so popular that plans are in place to hold many more events across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, where the Trust provides services. It forms part of a wider menopause strategy and vision that the Trust is in the process of setting out, with these events looking to help shape those policies going forward.

“NHS staff retention is so important and we know that many people who go through the menopause do actually resign,” she said. “Our ambition is to make the conversation safe and adapt the working environment, making Solent a great place to work.”

Speakers at the event included Chair of the NHS England/Improvement Menopause Group Jacqui McBurnie and Dr Caroline Taylor, Clinical Lead in Sexual and Reproductive Health and menopause specialist at Solent NHS Trust.

Solent’s female employees make up over 80 per cent of the workforce, with more than 52 per cent of women over the age of 40. The figures are mirrored nationally across the NHS.

The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman's oestrogen levels decline, but some women also experience the menopause before the age of 40.

“We want to remove the taboo and recognise that the NHS workforce, which is getting older, must be able to move through all stages of their lives, ageing happily while working for the NHS. By giving them a great place to work, they can provide the best care and decide themselves when they want stop working.”

Sue said she suffered from a raft of physical symptoms, which at first she did not recognise as being menopausal. It happened to her slowly and she now has to recognise that she is moving on to the next stage of her life.

“Mentally, you can struggle to retain large amounts of information, which is a frustrating change,” she said.

“Feeling physically unwell in meetings and being worried about how colleagues would perceive my symptoms was not great. Insomnia was one of my most common symptoms.”

She said the Menopause was not covered during her nurse training.
“The culture at Solent NHS Trust has meant that I felt very safe to share what are very personal issues,” she said.

“When I opened up about the issues I was facing I felt safe, listened to and supported. The reaction of colleagues showed me that so many other people were going through the same experience, but I didn’t realise this before because people were not talking about it.

“We want our people to be the best they can and as an employer, providing a healthy environment is key to this.”

She believes that everyone – not just women – should be involved in the discussion, including men and those who identify as LGBT+.

“The conversation shouldn’t just be about the menopause and women; this conversation has enormous value when we think about ageing – everyone is affected by hormone changes,” she said.

“Not everyone is the same and not everyone is menopausal because they come to that time of life, but I want people to feel comfortable talking about it.

“If you are suffering, I would strongly recommend you talk to other people who feel safe to talk about their experience and do it early on and accessing specialist support that can signpost you to evidence based treatments.”

For more information and advice about the menopause visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause

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