Hospitals will supply free tampons and sanitary towels to inpatients following doctors
Hospitals will be ordered to supply free tampons and sanitary towels to patients, following a campaign by doctors.Medics had said it was unfair that some hospitals would provide men with razors and shaving foam but not offer women sanitary products.It follows research showing that four in ten NHS trusts did not provide the products to those in need, or would only provide limited emergency supplies.The British Medical Association (BMA) wrote to health officials a month ago, urging them to change the policy.They said towels and tampons are a basic human need – like food – and should be made freely available at all hospitals in the UK.Some patients cannot afford to buy their own products, while others unexpectedly find themselves in hospital with nobody to rely on, campaigners said.Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS will announce that from July, hospitals will be obliged to provide women with sanitary products.Freedom of Information disclosures from 187 NHS trusts and health boards found that 42 per cent of them did not supply sanitary products at all, or would only provide them in an emergency, or in small amounts.For those that did have a supply, tampons and towels were often only available on gynaecology or maternity wards.Only 22 per cent of hospitals said they could easily be bought on site by the patient.Among trusts that did purchase supplies, average spend was just 71p per bed per year.Estimates suggest UK hospitals could supply the products for around £120,000 per year.Mr Stevens said NHS trusts will be obliged to provide free tampons and other sanitary products to all girls and women who need them, under the standard contract with hospitals for 2019-20.The announcement was welcomed by charity Freedom4Girls, which campaigns against period poverty.Mr Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “It is absolutely right that everyone has access to the essentials of daily life during their time in hospital, and that should include sanitary products.“It’s fundamental that we give patients the best experience possible during what can be a stressful time of their life, and by providing sanitary products the NHS can prevent unnecessary embarrassment and leave people to focus on their recovery.”Dame Parveen Kumar, chairman of the BMA’s Board of Science, said: “The BMA is delighted that NHS England has supported our call for sanitary products to be made freely available for patients, across England from July this year.“Since being raised as a concern by doctors in June last year, the BMA has undertaken extensive research into the poor provision of sanitary products in hospitals, including Freedom of Information requests to all English hospital Trusts.”This showed how patchy or non-existent the provision was and also the relatively small cost of providing tampons and pads free of charge.”We are pleased that our work, since then, with NHS England has culminated in such a successful result for women, bringing an end to indignity on top of ill-health.”She said the NHS was showing it could “lead by example”.“As well being an important influence in the shift that is necessary towards ending period poverty, this will be a relief for many patients who will no longer face the embarrassment and stress of not being able to freely and easily access sanitary pads and tampons,” she said.Freedom4Girls founder Tina Leslie said: “This is a great initiative and is a fantastic step forward. NHS England have stepped up to the mark and been proactive in ensuring that hospital patients get tampons and sanitary towels.“It is also breaking down barriers and reducing the stigma around periods. When women go into hospital it can be a worry to know what to do if you start your period, but now that worry is taken away as they know they will be catered for.”The new requirement will mean women and girls receiving treatment in hospitals and other health settings will be able to request pads, pantyliners and tampons when they need them.Officials said the move would offer reassurance to anyone needing urgent care unexpectedly, the move also will help those who are in hospital long term, including mental health inpatients.Ruth May, England’s chief nurse, said: “Periods are part of life and too often we take it for granted that everyone has easy access to sanitary products.“Period poverty affects an estimated one in 10 girls in this country and it can cause real anxiety when you can’t find the right product when you need it.“Health problems are stressful enough, and this move will mean that the embarrassment, discomfort and anxiety finding yourself in hospital without adequate protection on your period will be a thing of the past,” she said.A recent survey showed that at least one in four women and girls has had to miss work or school due to not being able to afford sanitary products. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.