The medical profession needs to make reasonable adjustments for women going through the menopause to help combat the senior doctor shortage.

Over 30,000 doctors are at risk of menopausal symptoms in the 45- to 54-year age group currently and the BMA said if the menopause is properly recognised as a workplace issue, and the right support is given, it will retain doctors the health service cannot afford to lose. 

In a survey of nearly 2,000 female doctors in this age group, 93% said they have had symptoms, with two thirds of these having physical and mental symptoms.

Of this, 90% felt it affected their work, with nearly two fifths finding it significant. Nearly 40% had wanted to make change but couldn’t and nearly half had wanted to discuss the problem with managers but felt uncomfortable doing so.

Work place changes for the menopause

Helen Fidler, BMA consultants committee deputy chair, said it was relatively simple to make adjustments for this relatively short period of a doctor’s working life. This included gender-sensitive risk assessments, access to cold water and fans and toilet facilities, sanitary products and cotton scrubs.

Flexible working to help with sleep deprivation and a non-judgemental attitude to menopause-related sick leave were needed to reverse the earlier retirement age of older doctors at risk of menopausal symptoms.

She said: "The Equalities Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act are relevant here – if menopause is causing an impairment to how you work you are entitled to reasonable adjustments but this is rarely offered.

"We simply have to change the culture of sniggering about ‘forgetful tearful women of a certain age’. Older doctors are pivotal for caring to patients and we have to retain them. To do that we must start talking about menopause openly and without gendered ageism. After all, if we can discuss sex and death without embarrassment why shouldn’t we ditch this last taboo and make life better for our colleagues?"

The BMA will be calling later in the year for full and open discussions in medical workplaces and a more pro-active approach in better support for women doctors such as flexible working and simple adjustments in the workplace such more water and ‘cooling down’ areas.