Stigma and leakage fears: period policy targets nurses’ concerns

New national period and menopause policy follows survey showing many nurses feel unable to discuss how disruptive symptoms affect their work

New national period and menopause policy follows survey showing many nurses feel unable to discuss how disruptive symptoms affect their work

A nurse in a blue uniform clutches her stomach as though in pain
Picture: iStock

Nurses have described feeling worried and embarrassed about getting their period at work, including so-called ‘leakage freakage’ – fear of bleeding onto their uniforms.

A survey of more than 6,000 NHS employees in Scotland also shows nurses experience stigma about the menopause and carry on working even when they feel unwell.

Nurses experience stigma over periods and menopause, survey finds

The research, led by Kathleen Riach at the University of Glasgow, informed the development of the National Menopause and Menstrual Health Policy for NHS Scotland, which was launched this week.

The survey of female NHS staff and others who menstruate was carried out last year and received more than 6,400 responses. It found ‘menstrual or menopausal suppression’ was a key feature of many employees’ working lives, with nurses and other staff feeling uncomfortable about discussing their experiences or asking for minor or temporary changes to working patterns.

Nurses described how period pain and other symptoms could make it harder to do their job, and going to great lengths to avoid being ‘outed’ by leaks.

‘Horrible pain and bleeding heavily makes a busy demanding work day much harder,’ said one band 5 staff nurse. ‘Taking pain relief has side effects and running to the bathroom to change sanitary protection frequently is concerning (in case of bleeding through) as well as time consuming.’

‘Not a team player’: nurses feel pressure not to mention disruptive symptoms

Some nurses worried that if they mentioned problems with periods they would be seen as ‘difficult’, unreliable, unprofessional or ‘not a team player’.

The survey found only 43% felt comfortable talking about menstruation with their line manager and 51% would tell a line manager if they were experiencing disruptive symptoms.

Staff expressed similar concerns about mentioning menopause symptoms, with 42% reporting having had a workplace experience related to the menopause that left them feeling embarrassed or ashamed.

One band 6 clinical research nurse said her hot flushes were so severe that she could not work efficiently, but she felt she could not say anything to her colleagues or manager.

The new policy stresses the need for line managers to have supportive conversations with staff and look at practical adjustments. These could include flexible breaks or working hours, ensuring access to toilet facilities, period products and spare uniforms, and employing ways to keep cool, such as fans and open windows.

New policy will encourage ‘compassionate management and greater flexibility’

RCN Scotland director Colin Poolman said it is important nurses feel confident to raise health issues, as this is key to improving staff retention rates.

‘A culture of increased awareness, compassionate management and greater flexibility are all vital for ensuring that nursing staff whose menstrual and menopausal health experiences are negatively affecting their working lives are better valued and supported,’ he said.

Scotland’s minister for public health and women’s health Jenni Minto said: ‘This is a positive example of an employer taking proactive steps to reduce barriers to women’s health in the workplace and we hope it promotes equivalent efforts across the public, private and third sectors.’

In other news