Male MPs attempt menopause in hot flush vest – then can’t wait to take it off

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“Volcanic” and “very uncomfortable” – just some reactions from male MPs trying out a vest that simulates menopause hot flushes as part of an event raising awareness of the UK’s acute shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products.

Wes Streeting, Stephen Kinnock and Nick Thomas-Symonds were among the politicians who tried out the device fitted with heated pads that mimics one of the most common and unpleasant symptoms.

“I’m feeling this on my back now,” said the former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, a few seconds after putting the vest on. “Imagine making a speech in the House of Commons and suddenly getting a hot flush. If [men] had this, we’d be complaining a lot.”

“If you pass out, we’ve got water,” joked Carolyn Harris MP, co-chair of the menopause taskforce, who sponsored the event at Portcullis House in Westminster on Tuesday to drum up support for measures to ease the HRT products shortage. “Welcome to my world. I don’t need the vest to be hot and bothered.”

A sharp increase in demand for HRT drugs in recent months, partly fuelled by TV documentaries highlighting the safety of the treatments, has led to widespread shortages of products, leaving some women unable to sleep or work effectively, and forcing them to barter for HRT products in carparks or to buy them online at vastly inflated prices.

Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said after trying on the vest: “It’s deeply unpleasant and an enveloping heat. How you would crack on with life I don’t know. I can’t wait to take this off.”

Kinnock, shadow minister for immigration, described it as “a very intense kind of heat and an internal feeling, not like being warmed by the sun, but almost volcanic inside”.

Labour MP Wes Streeting and former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith
Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “It’s deeply unpleasant and an enveloping heat. How you would crack on with life I don’t know. I can’t wait to take this off.” Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

The vest was developed by Over the Bloody Moon, a group that provides advice on menopause to companies and individuals, and funded by London-based Theramex, one of the biggest makers of HRT products in the UK.

Its electric pads recreate the sudden creep of heat many women will experience that contributes to one in 10 leaving their jobs.

MPs who tried it on, who also included Tory Tim Loughton and the SNP’s Allan Dorans, said the menopause was an economic issue too, as it forces some women out of the workforce and leaves others less productive. Duncan Smith said “it should be an economic slam dunk” to ensure women get the help and support they need.

Harris and other campaigners want to ensure all women who need them have access to the right HRT products.

Theramex and the British Menopause Society have been calling for a national formulary, or list, of approved HRT drugs that would make it easier for doctors and pharmacists to prescribe them, and Harris wrote to the health secretary, Sajid Javid, last week to reiterate the importance of this.

The government has allowed pharmacists to prescribe other HRT drugs to women when the ones they were prescribed by their GP were not available, but Harris said this appeared to have had little effect. About 300 women had contacted her on social media saying they were still struggling to get the products they needed.

Streeting said: “Women are having to go private. For something that is so common like the menopause, it is outrageous.”

Lesley Salem, founder of Over the Bloody Moon, said: “Hot flushes are one of top three symptoms that impact on the lives of menopausal women – disrupting sleep, increasing levels of anxiety and often affecting women’s performance at work.

“For those who haven’t experienced the feeling, it is easy to underestimate its intensity and fail to appreciate just what an impact it has on daily life.”

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