Ladies and Gentlemen

As patron of Women’s Health Concern I just wanted to say a brief hello and to welcome you all. I am really delighted to see you here today because the very fact that you’ve taken the time to be here means that you are interested in women’s health – and that makes a huge difference to me and the millions of other women in this country who so often struggle to find a GP who has either interest in our gynaecological problems or sufficient knowledge to treat them in the most effective way.

That, in a nutshell, is why in 1972, this charity was set up: to give women the information and help they wanted and needed – and to run training courses and symposiums like this one for health professionals. The shocking thing is that 38 years later this charity still has a role to play. Because despite the huge advances in our understanding of women’s health during that time, and the explosion of media stories about women’s health, women are still not getting the information and help they need from their GPs. And a lot of the time, they don’t get much sympathy either.

We know this because they contact us – and time and again they tell us that their doctor was dismissive or gave them what they feel was bad advice. Very often these women are desperate and have been suffering, sometimes quite needlessly, for years. They are confused by all the conflicting media stories, embarrassed by their condition and sometimes quite frightened too. What we do is give them the confidence to go to their GPs or their practice nurse and say what they want.

It’s no secret that the NHS does not regard women’s health as a priority – and as often as not, women ringing NHS Direct (while they still can) are advised to contact us instead. While the task of bringing doctors up to speed on the menopause – which, it has to be said, affects about one hundred percent of older woman – is left to us and to the British Menopause Society, another charity.

Speaking as a woman who is qualified for little else, but who does know quite a lot about the menopause, I think this is little short of scandalous.

Women’s health and their management of the menopause in particular, should be a priority.

Women of all ages are vital to our society – as carers, as mothers and grandmothers, as wives, and as workers. We represent a huge proportion of the population and without good health, good advice and sympathetic handling by the health professionals, something as natural as the menopause can put us completely out of action – and make us as grumpy as hell – for years.

I have been patron of WHC for nearly ten years and in all that time it has struggled financially. The work we do might involve sex – and this year the Big Lottery part funded a Sexual Health Awareness Campaign, which has been hugely successful and very good fun – but sadly women’s health is not a sexy cause. We don’t rescue starving donkeys, or provide menopausal women with guide dogs, and the Princess of Wales didn’t take us under her wing and make endometriosis or fibroids a cause celebre. We concern ourselves with women’s health – exactly what it says on the packet – and most people you shake a collecting box at, think that is pretty well taken care of by GPs and the NHS. So the money has never exactly flooded in – and in the last couple of years it’s been down to a very small trickle.

The truth is WHC is seriously struggling. We have had to cut back dramatically – David Cameron would be proud of us – and it was touch and go as to whether we could afford to host another symposium again this year – despite the reputation they have of being the best of their kind. And if the NHS Helpline is cut, WHC will be stretched even further.

We had to give up our offices in Central London two years ago and are sharing offices in Marlow thanks to the great generosity of the British Menopause Society,