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Holly Cairns has warned that the cost of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is preventing many women from seeking treatment for debilitating menopause symptoms.
At present, women who require HRT face prescription charges of between €30 and €70 a month.
The Social Democrats leader is now calling for free HRT to help women manage the “major [menopausal] shifts that impact their daily lives”.
Ms Cairns, who is TD for Cork South-West, made the call at the launch of the Menopause Hub in Ballincollig, Co Cork.
The new clinic is third Menopause Hub to open in the country, with the others located in Santry, north Dublin, and Mount Merrion, South Co Dublin.
“Free HRT is an essential part of removing those barriers of cost for women taking up treatment during menopause,” Ms Cairns said at the official opening.
“And so many women stop their treatment, or never access it in the first place, because they cannot afford it.
“The symptoms of menopause are not minor inconveniences, and it is essential that the reality of menopause and perimenopause are communicated and taught to women so we can be aware of what is happening to our mind and to our body.
“Medical care is a right and healthcare should be available to every single person in this State, free of charge, 24/7, from the point of need.
“Too often, it is quite literally a post-code lottery.
“But centres like this (the Menopause Hub) are making a difference.
“They provide equal and affordable access to high-quality medical care and treatment, in our own communities, breaking down those barriers which have kept so many people, and women in Cork, from accessing the care they need.”
Ms Cairns also called for greater awareness of menopause issues among general practitioners (GPs).
“We have a long, long way to go and we have to continuously push for supports and information,” she added.
“Clinics like The Menopause Hub help to smash the taboo surrounding menopause and help support women during a really challenging period in their life.”
Menopause Hub CEO Loretta Dignam said she was delighted to open her third clinic in Cork.
“Lots of women from Cork got in touch after we opened our second clinic in Santry, and we’re looking forward to meeting more women from the county to help the through their menopause journey,” she said.
“They can contact us directly, and do not need a referral from a GP.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago when the subject of the menopause was only talked about in hushed tones, if at all.
“Thankfully, the situation is changing, and a long overdue national conversation is taking place.
“The roll-out of a menopause guide to GPs, for example, was welcome but more needs done.
“Free HRT to all women going through menopause would be a great place to start, especially during the cost of living crisis.”
For more information about the Menopause Hub, visit themenopausehub.ie.