The British Medical Association is calling for free sanitary products across all hospitals in the UK, as doctors say it is essential to the health, dignity and wellbeing of inpatients.
The BMA wants sanitary products to be made freely available across all UK hospitals after an investigation by the union found a significant number of hospital trusts and health boards (42%) do not supply such products at all, will only supply small amounts, or will supply them only in an emergency.
“It seems fundamentally unequal that hospitals would provide shaving materials to men but not provide vital sanitary products to women”
The research also highlighted that no trusts or health boards in the UK had a dedicated policy in place and noted a significant variation in the provision of sanitary items, said the union.
Among the key findings, the investigation revealed that in many cases, products were only available on gynaecology or maternity wards.
In addition, it was found that some trusts and health boards had reported spending nothing on sanitary products for patients. For those that did, the average spend was only 71p per bed, per year, noted the BMA.
The BMA also highlighted that only 22% of trusts said that sanitary products are readily available to purchase. Nearly half (48%) said that access was limited in some regard, and some trusts said it was not possible, at all, to purchase sanitary products on site (15%).
Meanwhile, it was also identified that a number or trusts and health boards listed toiletry items such as razors and shaving foam as being provided to patients for free during their hospital stay, but not sanitary items.
The BMA said having access to sanitary products was a basic need, just like food. It added that hospitals should set a strong example by providing these items for patients that cannot afford them, in addition to those who may unexpectedly find themselves in hospital often without other people to rely on.
Women facing ‘barriers’ to gynaecological healthcare
Carmel Bagness, the Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for midwifery and women’s health, backed the call from the doctors’ union.
“Being in hospital in the first place, especially unexpectedly, can be a distressing experience for anybody and women and girls should not have the added worry of ensuring they have an adequate supply of sanitary products,” she said.
“It seems completely inconsistent and fundamentally unequal that hospitals would provide shaving materials to men but not provide vital sanitary products to women, particularly to those who are alone with no one to rely on,” she added.
Ms Bagness continued: “It is a matter of dignity and women and girls should feel they are being properly cared for – this is a simple part of the package of care which can make a big difference to a patient’s experience.”
The latest investigation is part of a wider BMA campaign to put an end to period poverty, with the union noting there were many people who could not afford sanitary items which has a profound impact on their sense of self-worth and dignity.
It argued that the impact on patient wellbeing far outweighed the relatively small cost to the NHS of making sanitary products freely available.
“Hospitals have an opportunity to lead the way in tackling period poverty and should be a shining example of the progress”
BMA board of science chair, Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, said it was “highly concerning” that many hospitals were not providing sanitary items for patients who need them.
“A hospital stay can be a very challenging experience and is often unexpected,” she said. “This should not be further exacerbated by the indignity and embarrassment that comes from not having access to these essential products.”
Dame Kumar also stated that as well as the provision of products, trusts and health boards should provide patients with information on how to access the products, either prior to, or during their stay.
She said: “Hospitals have an opportunity to lead the way in tackling period poverty and should be a shining example of the progress that can be made on this important issue.”
“Something which may seem not that significant can have a major impact on a person’s wellbeing and health services across the UK have the ability to make this important step,” she added.
The BMA have written a letter to NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, to discuss the recommendations.