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GPs prescribe menstrual support in UK first

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

Top clinicians, Women's Health Minister, leaders of political parties,

Royal College of Obs/Gyn and leaders in the menstrual movement

hail UK first for menstrual health on social prescription as "vital"

GPs prescribe menstrual support in UK First

GP surgeries are offering menstrual cycle support as part of social prescribing for the first time, in a bid to reduce period-related suffering and diagnosis times, which stands at eight years for endometriosis alone.

St Austell Healthcare, which serves 37,000 patients across five surgeries in Cornwall, and was recently praised by HRH The Prince of Wales for its innovative work in social prescribing, is the first to offer the non-clinical group courses on Menstrual Cycle Awareness. The 3-6 month group courses, initially offered online, will be delivered by Kate Shepherd Cohen, a menstrual cycle consultant, writer and activist based in St Agnes, who is working to roll out the free service nationally.

Dr Michael Dixon, Chairman of Social Prescribing Institute, and Chair of the College of Medicine, says ‘This new offering of menstrual cycle group support through social prescription is thoroughly innovative and empowering. I’d like to see it in every surgery in England and across the UK.’

The courses for patients in St Austell, which has areas of high socio economic deprivation, are based on Menstrual Cycle Awareness, a method of tracking and reframing the menstrual cycle to manage pain and reduce suffering, created by menstrual wellbeing pioneers Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, co-founders of the Red School.

A report by MPs in October 2020 stated that endometriosis care across the UK needs urgent improvement and diagnosis times need to be cut in half. Social prescribing is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other health and care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. NHS England announced this year that there will be a primary care network social prescribing link worker for every surgery by 2021.

The course, developed by Kate Shepherd Cohen, is for patients with all period-related problems. It applies the NHS advice on how best to decrease stress during the pandemic, and earned the Period Positive Charter mark, and with input from:

  • Endometriosis UK, CEO, Emma Cox

  • Dr Michael Dixon, Chairman of Social Prescribing Institute and Chair of College of Medicine

  • Bloody Good Period, CEO, Gabby Edlin

  • Period Positive Founder, former head of PSHE, menstrual educator and author Chella Quint

  • Leading consultant gynaecologist, Michael Dooley

  • National Women's Health Specialist (based in Cornwall) and Executive Director of Primary Care Women's Health Forum (PCWHF), Dr Sarah Gray

  • Clinical psychologist Dr Helena Tucker

  • Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, co-founders, Red School

  • Dr Stewart Smith, Primary Care Network Lead, St Austell Healthcare

  • Patients in the St Austell area

  • Dr Marion Norbrook, Reproductive and sexual health doctor

  • Founder of the charity Cysters, Neelam Heera, campaigner for improved menstrual health & education in marginalised communities

  • Sally King, Founder & Research Director of Menstrual Matters

Kate Shepherd Cohen says

‘Whether it’s mood disorders, heavy bleeding, irregular or absent cycles, PMS/PMDD, endometriosis, PCOS - we have a pandemic of period-related suffering. A staggering 8 out of 10 young people experience menstrual problems. Many of these problems can be managed and supported through Menstrual Cycle Awareness.

I have experienced firsthand the excruciating pain of the cycle, and the transformative impact of this work to reduce suffering - through peer support, and powerful, practical tools. I applaud St Austell Healthcare for having the vision to pioneer this work through social prescription, and hope it will help support girls, women and others who menstruate, in Cornwall, and eventually the rest of the country.’

Leaders give their support:

Minister for women’s health, Nadine Dorries, says

‘It is vital all women and girls are able to access high quality information and advice about every aspect of their health, and that we do all we can to tackle harmful taboos around periods which can prevent women from speaking out and seeking support. Women experience period problems differently and it can affect them mentally as well as physically.

This new initiative is a positive step forward, and I am confident it will support more women and girls to manage their symptoms, and empower them to discuss treatment with healthcare providers.’

Ed Davey, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, says:

‘Endometriosis is a painful, debilitating disease that too often goes undiagnosed. We need to make sure that all women across the UK have access to this support. We cannot fail Endometriosis sufferers any longer. This initiative will help bring down the terribly high diagnosis times for endometriosis and help people who may have been suffering in silence with pain or other symptoms - unsure if any help was available, or how to get it - to come forward.’

Mandu Reid, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, says

‘This is a big step forward for women’s health, and for the thousands of women who are ignored, disbelieved and shamed into silence about their symptoms. Just like mental health, menstrual health needs more sunlight and candour - the more we talk about it the better we can manage it. Far from letting the NHS off the hook, this approach will force it to do better and be more responsive to women.’

President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Edward Morris, says:

‘We welcome this initiative which will enable women and girls to better track their menstrual cycle and access further support if they are suffering from period related problems. We know that many aspects of women and girls’ health – specifically periods- are still not talked about openly and honestly, and this often acts as a barrier to them approaching healthcare professionals if something doesn’t seem right.

The stigma and shame surrounding periods means that many girls and women are suffering unnecessarily from manageable or treatable conditions. The more reliable, accurate education and information is available to women and girls the better.’

Endometriosis UK, CEO, Emma Cox says

'Even before Covid-19, it took on average eight years to get a diagnosis of endometriosis, often with multiple visits to doctors, hospital, and even A&E. Those with symptoms of endometriosis, such as pelvic pain and painful sex, can be left feeling their sometimes severe symptoms are not believed. Knowledge about the menstrual cycle and what is and isn't 'normal' in terms of pain, how to keep a record of pain and symptoms, and confidence to raise concerns with healthcare practitioners will be a vital support for those with undiagnosed menstrual conditions.'

National Women's Health Specialist (based in Cornwall) and Executive Director of Primary Care Women's Health Forum (PCWHF), Dr Sarah Gray, says,

"At a time when so many appointments are being conducted by telephone or video, this work will be particularly helpful if it can assist both patients and their health care professionals to understand menstrual issues and communicate more effectively.

Supporting patients to produce a clear cycle diary can inform patients sufficiently to manage their problems themselves. If these problems prove too much to cope with then the exercise would also assist communication with their healthcare provider. Documentation can lead clinicians to an earlier diagnosis or a more effective management plan. This would help both the health system and women.

I think that menstrual cycle awareness on social prescription has the potential to be a great asset, advancing the lives of patients and the work of healthcare professionals. If evaluated and proven to be successful it could become a National initiative."

Leading consultant gynaecologist Michael Dooley says

‘Many congratulations on developing such an exciting programme that is so desperately needed for so many people.’

Clinical psychologist Dr Helena Tucker says

'Living during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen a significant negative impact on mental health and well-being with increased levels of psychological distress, anxiety and depression.

Mental health and the menstrual cycle are inextricably linked.

Even before the pandemic but now even more so, learning about the menstrual cycle and understanding ourselves and our mental health within this container has the potential to bring substantial benefits to our physical and psychological well-being. It also plays an important role in breaking the menstrual cycle taboo and stigma and changing the narrative to one of empowerment, dignity and value.

I am excited to support this very important initiative and hope to see it available to more and more menstruators.'

Bloody Good Period, CEO, Gabby Edlin

‘Period poverty has surged in the UK during the pandemic and health inequalities have been brought into sharp focus. I'm excited to see how this course will help people manage their periods, instead of their periods managing them, especially at this difficult time during the pandemic.

The importance of tracking the cycle has been underestimated, by both doctors and those who menstruate - this course looks like it will help people learn a lot about themselves as well as helping them to communicate their experience at home, school and in the workplace.’

Dr Stewart Smith, Primary Care Network Lead, St Austell Healthcare, says,

‘At the moment there are huge mental health problems, huge health inequalities, which disproportionately affect young women. Women have a menstrual cycle for about 40 years. Anything we can do to empower the women in our communities, especially from the most disadvantaged ones, is really important.’

Zoe Davies, St Austell patient says

‘This free course is badly needed, especially at this time when the pandemic has put such a strain on finances. It’s reassuring that GPs can refer to a support course, other than just giving prescription drugs’

Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, co-founders, Red School, creators of Menstrual Cycle Awareness

‘Menstrual Cycle Awareness is the exciting new revolution in women's health and wellbeing. A foundational practice for awakening essential self care, reducing stress and easing or healing menstrual health problems. We are thrilled to see Menstrual Cycle Awareness taught and prescribed in the NHS Social Prescription programme created by Kate Shepherd Cohen. An innovation for our times - offering a natural, cost effective solution for mental, emotional and physical health - that will empower all menstruators.’

Dr Marion Norbrook, Reproductive and sexual health doctor

‘An exciting new initiative which I feel will serve women throughout their reproductive life cycle. It will especially serve younger people getting to know their bodies and for those going through changes such as the menopause. I feel this initiative will contribute to women's mental well-being and improved life experiences surrounding the menstrual cycle but also before, during and after contraception.’

Period Positive Founder, former head of PSHE, menstrual educator and author Chella Quint

‘I’m so pleased to be supporting this project to uphold the Period Positive framework! Through Period Positive I support organisations locally and globally to transform the menstrual discourse.The Charter Mark is awarded to places, programmes and projects who want to show that they are developing an inclusive and progressive approach to menstrual education and literacy. Kate has put together a really thoughtful initiative and earned the Award easily! This course will be so valuable for patients who want to learn more about their bodies and move past taboos and negative messages they may have received in the past. It's a real pleasure to support a project that has such practical aims and is so well thought through.’

Neelam Heera, founder of the charity Cysters, campaigner for improved menstrual health & education in marginalised communities.

‘The menstrual cycle is experienced differently for all people. It is important we recognise that these experiences change with cultural views and custom playing an important role. This is why the patient voice and lived experience is so important in this space. I applaud Kate Shepherd Cohen for this initiative and hope that will be rolled out nationally in the same sensitive and inclusive way.'

Sally King, Founder & Research Director of Menstrual Matters

‘Menstrual health and wellbeing is something that has sadly always been absent from public discussion, as well as school and even medical education. As a result, people are unsure if their experiences are normal, or a sign of an underlying health issue. This pilot will hopefully shine a light on the potential financial, health, and societal benefits of informing people about their bodies and supporting those in need of professional medical support to access it quickly. It will hopefully also encourage GPs to properly differentiate cyclical changes from the symptoms of numerous female-prevalent health conditions, reducing the risk of misdiagnosis or ineffective treatment. Congratulations to Cornwall and St Austell Healthcare for being a much-needed trailblazer in female health and wellbeing - and to Kate Shepherd Cohen for getting this initiative off the ground... A rapidly growing global human health & rights movement is eagerly awaiting your findings!’

Hayley Burgoyne, Head of Social Prescribing, St Austell Healthcare

‘Social prescribing is an innovative and growing movement that helps to empower people and gives them the confidence and support necessary to improve their health and wellbeing. There are fantastic activities and support options available in the community and social prescribing is all about linking people in need to these opportunities and ensuring that the most appropriate support is in place. Having a wide range of high quality referral options is key so we are thrilled to now be able to offer menstrual support through social prescribing.’

Patients can learn more about menstrual support on social prescribing and register their interest at <Ends>

All enquiries:

  • Zoe Sobol, 07971 066 034,

  • Simon Cohen, 0751 538 7314,

Notes to editors:

Press images:

High resolution versions can be downloaded and used by the media here

Kate Shepherd Cohen, who will be delivering this first for UK menstrual health (credit: Julian Preece)


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