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Call for UK-wide free period products for nurses on long shifts

Campaigners say the move would help tackle period poverty across the UK, after Scotland passes legislation to enable access to free sanitary items
Period products

Campaigners say the move would help tackle period poverty across the UK, after Scotland passes legislation to enable access to free sanitary items

Nursing staff working long shifts need access to free period products and adequate breaks to change sanitary items, say campaigners, who claim it would also help to address period poverty across the UK.

The call follows the introduction of legislation in Scotland to enable access to free period products. The Period Products Act, which came into force on 15 August , means councils and education providers in Scotland are legally obliged to provide free period products to anyone that needs them.

Progress on periods

The move was welcomed by RCN Scotland as ‘ground-breaking’ and

Campaigners say the move would help tackle period poverty across the UK, after Scotland passes legislation to enable access to free sanitary items

Picture: iStock

Nursing staff working long shifts need access to free period products and adequate breaks to change sanitary items, say campaigners, who claim it would also help to address period poverty across the UK.

The call follows the introduction of legislation in Scotland to enable access to free period products. The Period Products Act, which came into force on 15 August, means councils and education providers in Scotland are legally obliged to provide free period products to anyone that needs them.

Progress on periods

The move was welcomed by RCN Scotland as ‘ground-breaking’ and a ‘significant step forward in ensuring anyone who needs period products can access them’. The college has campaigned for period products to be available for all NHS staff in the country.

RCN Scotland board chair Julie Lambeth said: ‘With many nursing staff working long shifts, access to period products is a necessity and a relatively simple measure to improve staff well-being and comfort.

‘We have seen progress, with many NHS Boards in Scotland now providing access to free products for patients, visitors and staff. However, as well as availability of products, it is imperative that nursing staff can take their breaks so that they can access period products.’

The right to deal with menstruation in a dignified manner

Elsewhere, RCN leaders said UK-wide legislation was needed to end period poverty for all women, girls and others who menstruate.

‘We know that many who menstruate still find themselves in a position where they can’t afford basic sanitary products,’ said RCN professional lead for midwifery and women’s health Carmel Bagness.

‘This is likely to have worsened due to the cost-of-living crisis and our members should not be facing period poverty as a result.’

Nurses have described the stress and anxiety caused by having their period at work and not always being able to get hold of sanitary products or deal with menstruation in a dignified manner.

A 2021 analysis by Nursing Standard found some were resorting to wearing incontinence pants to get through long shifts or risking the rare but potentially life-threatening toxic shock syndrome because they were unable to change tampons.

Improving culture and communication around periods

Healthcare unions including the RCN, Unison and the British Medical Association have called on NHS organisations and other employers to make period products freely available to staff and ensure they get proper breaks to change them.

The charity Bloody Good Period, which campaigns for menstrual equity, said providing period products was a good first step but must go alongside measures to address ongoing stigma and shame around menstruation.

‘It is imperative we first understand the range of experiences and challenges that people who menstruate face in the workplace and then take steps to support them,’ said education and communications manager Terri Harris. ‘A robust solution might include providing period products for free, but also improving communications, culture and broader policy around periods in the workplace.’

She said the charity had received multiple requests for free period products from public services in the past few months, including NHS community care teams, domestic violence services, homeless hostels, food banks and services that support sex workers. ‘There is clearly a national need for free and accessible period products in England too,’ she said.

Period-friendly workplaces

A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: ‘The government has taken a number of steps to ensure that sanitary products are available and affordable for all who need them, including scrapping VAT and rolling out free period products to colleges, schools and hospitals.’

Fee period products are on offer to hospital patients in England, including long-term inpatients.

NHS England said policies on provision of sanitary products to staff were up to individual trusts.

Some health and care employers have signed up to the Bloody Good Employers scheme to help them become a ‘period-friendly workplace’, including providing period products.


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