Dr Mary McCarthy: Sanitary products are a basic need

Period poverty should be a thing of the past and the NHS must lead the way.

We tend to think of food and shelter as a basic human need. People recognise that without these things, a person is generally in crisis and as such, we have well-established charities, foodbanks and homeless shelters in place to try and help those who are in need.

Little is spoken however of the need for sanitary products for those who cannot afford them – although the tide seems to be turning.

The BMA has recently launched a campaign calling on all hospitals to provide free sanitary products to patients free of charge.

An investigation by the BMA found across the UK, 42 per cent of trusts and health boards either do not supply sanitary products for inpatients at all, or indicated that they would only supply them in case of an emergency, and would then expect a patient to supply their own as soon as possible.

It also found that in some cases, razors and shaving products were made available to inpatients, but sanitary products were not.

Worryingly, no trusts or health boards have a policy in place that would address this.

For those that did spend money on sanitary provision, the cost was minimal – with the average spend across those who did provide them either entirely or in certain circumstances, only £0.71p per bed per year. Staying in hospital can already be a very challenging time and your personal hygiene is one of the ways in which you can feel better about yourself and retain a sense of wellbeing and dignity.


Patients very often must rely on friends and relatives to bring them in and there are many cases when this is just not an option or patients may be too embarrassed or shy to ask for them.

This was brought to the British Medical Association’s attention last summer at the Annual Representative Meeting when Eleanor Wilson, a medical student who set up a scheme at Glasgow University to supply sanitary products to those who can’t afford them, stood on the platform and proposed a motion that hospitals should be required to provide these products, in the same way that they provide shaving kits.

People need to be treated with dignity, especially when they are in hospital and feeling vulnerable.

Providing women with essential sanitary protection is part of the process of treating patients with respect and consideration.

The hospital investigation is part of a wider BMA push to end period poverty and ensure that those who cannot afford sanitary items are provided with these.

Thankfully we are starting to see the issue covered more widely in the media and there are small local initiatives popping up across the country.

The NHS should lead be leading by example and doing so will encourage others to promote this important issue.

This small measure can make such an important difference to someone and should inform part of a wider cultural shift that is necessary.

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