Menstrual Cycle Support (MCS) has rapidly become a county-wide social prescribing innovation and, this year, bolstered by my award for Innovator of the Year 2021 at the International Social Prescribing Conference, the initiative is set for a national roll-out so that the service is available in every GP surgery in the UK.
Here's how the innovation grew to be county-wide so quickly and why social prescribing is such a brilliant pathway for improving and delivering a crucial missing piece of mainstream national menstrual healthcare.
In Cornwall, I live near St Austell Healthcare (34,000 patients), one of the early adopters of social prescribing in the UK.
Hearing of their success in helping patients suffering with loneliness and isolation by referring them from the GP surgery to local community groups such as walking and gardening (social prescription), I was inspired.
I myself had suffered the burden of menstrual loneliness and isolation since my first period - could social prescribing help Cornwall's thousands of menstrual sufferers too?
Initially, in early 2020, I planned to offer menstrual cycle support workshops on social prescription in St Austell town hall, for free, as part of my own social responsibility and community life.
I gained what I felt were the necessary pre-requisites to accompany my own certifications in the menstrual cycle: qualifications in counselling, mental health awareness, safeguarding and, of course, DBS and the relevant insurance.
Cue The Pandemic
No longer able to offer my menstrual cycle support workshops face to face, I moved the 12 week programme online in December 2020. I was instantly over-subscribed. It turns out most menstruators prefer to be sitting in the comfort of their own home whilst discussing their personal experience of menstrual suffering (and also that 64% menstruators reported their menstrual symptoms increased during the pandemic -Society of Endocrinology, Nov 2021).
And, being online, it was no longer necessary to only offer the menstrual cycle support programme to a small number from St Austell Healthcare. I began to receive requests from all over Cornwall (and further a field) so I approached all of the surgeries and told them about my services.
100% of GP surgeries in Cornwall agreed to offer Menstrual Cycle Support on social prescription - reaching out to 600,000 patients
For me, the exciting part of social prescribing has always been the opportunity for ALL healthcare providers to refer patients to the activity.
I have been receiving referrals from GPs, social prescribing link workers, as well as the allied health professions (I received a referral recently from an osteopath, for example).
Access to students suffering with their menstrual cycle
With this opportunity in mind, I am currently developing relationships with all of the local secondary schools, Universities and colleges in the county, so that the student support service, counsellors, school nurse, pastoral care and even the teachers, are able to refer students to the Menstrual Cycle Support free course.
Menstrual Cycle Support as a referral/signposting service to other local initiatives
I've also found myself referring the Menstrual Cycle Support participants to other local relevant projects/services, social media pages (e.g. endometriosis support groups) and face to face gatherings so that increasingly there is a lovely element of joined up thinking for menstrual healthcare in the county.
Becoming a nation-wide innovation
I'm really motivated by all that I've learned as a county-wide innovation and I look forward to taking all of that learning and experience to the rest of the country.
I'm gathering crucial data through my relationship with Meaningful Measures data research company and look forward to publishing my first report later this year.
For more information, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org