The high street store unveiled what it billed as the UK’s first perimenopause health screen service on the high street this week – with the test including a blood test which examines key hormonal levels and areas of health which can be impacted by the menopause.
Perimenopause refers to the period leading up to the menopause – hormones often fluctuate during this time and menopausal symptoms sometimes start.
Experts on the menopause told The Independent Superdrug is offering a service which should be provided by the NHS, arguing the health retailer is capitalising on doctors’ lack of awareness of the menopause and perimenopause.
The majority of the 3.4 million women aged between 50 and 64 in the UK will be experiencing symptoms of the menopause – with these ranging from heart palpitations to hot flushes, vaginal pain, changes in mood and much more.
Carolyn Harris, who chairs the parliamentary group which specialises in menopause, told The Independent, she was wary of Superdrug’s screenings because the firm is providing an “extortionate” service which women should be able to access for free via the NHS.
Ms Harris, who is the Labour MP for Swansea East, said: “This is scandalous. Charging women £99 for a diagnosis that they should be getting for free on the NHS.
“Blood tests themselves are not a reliable way of getting a diagnosis and even if a hormone deficiency is detected, patients will still need to go to their GP for treatment – exactly the same as they would do without having had the test. The results from this test will not determine the treatment that a GP offers either.
“This is a high street store trying to take advantage of the increased profile that the menopause has had in recent months and cash in on the demand for diagnosis and treatment.”
Ms Harris warned all blood tests for hormones are inherently unreliable as hormones fluctuate depending on the time of day and what state your body is in at that moment.
She added: “Even if the test comes back and says you are not perimenopausal, the doctor will want to do their own test.
“Doctors are not going to prescribe hormone replacement therapy – the treatment used to alleviate menopausal symptoms – based on the private blood test.
“I really worry about this. There are so many women out there who are frustrated as doctors say they are not menopausal or perimenopausal. Women may turn to this as a panacea to get everything sorted.”
Ms Harris said she always had concerns about any organisation or firm seeking to make money out of a service which people should be able to access free of charge.
The politician warned Superdrug was “cashing in on” women who are vulnerable due to failing to get the basic recognition they are menopausal from doctors. Ms Harris hit out at the dearth of awareness about the menopause among doctors as she noted some 41 per cent of medical schools do not have menopause on the curriculum.
Superdrug’s perimenopausal screening will not just check for hormones but also examines Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin D levels as these can compound menopausal related symptoms, as well as looking at their cardiovascular health, and thyroid profile. Ms Harris noted these tests can all be accessed for free on the NHS.
Kathy Abernathy, a menopause specialist, told The Independent: “The problem is that a blood test alone cannot effectively diagnose menopause – diagnosis should be based on an individual’s symptoms and their personal history.
“This new health check emphasises the barriers facing people of menopausal age: lack of awareness and lack of accessible, affordable support from menopause experts.”
While the perimenopause generally begins when a woman is in their forties, women start the perimenopause at different ages.
Haitham Hamoda, chairman of the British Menopause Society, told The Independent: “I don’t think patients or women should go out and buy these tests because the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) guidance doesn’t recommend testing to confirm the menopause.
“The diagnosis of the menopause should be based on symptoms and changes in period patterns.”
Dr Shahzadi Harper, who specialises in the perimenopause and menopause, said hormonal blood tests are “overly reductive” as she explained no blood test exists which will tell you if you are perimenopausal or not.
“It is more about your symptoms, not about the blood test,” she added.
Dr Harper argued Superdrug were “taking advantage of menopause awareness, like others are doing too”.
She added: ”Perimenopause is a good time for a general health check-up and this screening does involve some key tests. You should always go and discuss your symptoms with a healthcare professional. Women should have a general health check-up when they reach mid-life.”
The new screening comes as a shortage of hormone replacement therapy – used to alleviate physical and psychological menopause symptoms – grips the UK.
More than one million women in the UK are estimated to currently be dependent on some form of hormone replacement therapy by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
A spokesperson for Superdrug said: “We would welcome a comprehensive perimenopause service being available on the NHS.
“We launched a perimenopause health screen service to help increase accessibility, choice and support for people when it comes to their health. The service checks key hormonal levels and importantly other vital health areas including cardiovascular health, thyroid profile, vitamins and minerals.
“The service gives people the option to get professional advice and consider strategies to manage their symptoms which could significantly improve their quality of life.”