Why We Need to Talk About Period Inequality in Irish Hospitals

In February the British Medical Association released a letter arguing that sanitary products should be made available to inpatients for free. Following on from this NHS England have now announced that sanitary towels and tampons will be made available for patients from the summer.

What is perhaps most surprising for many people is that this is not already the case: both in the UK and in Ireland. As an inpatient for over three months at the Mater Hospital, Dublin, in 2015, it came as a surprise to learn that basic sanitary and hygiene products were not available to patients, and were often difficult to purchase in the hospital.

There are many people who find themselves in hospital without prior warning and are unable to prepare for a possibly long hospital stay. And not every patient has someone they can ask to take in those items. So how can a patient get a hold of sanitary products as an inpatient? If mobile there is usually a shop in the hospital. In the case of the Mater this was on the ground floor, was expensive and poorly stocked. They didn’t seem to expect inpatients would want to access sanitary towels and tampons.

A trolley visits most wards, most days. However small side wards and single rooms are often left out of the rounds. If you are not mobile this makes things even harder. Again, the number of items on offer is small and there is no guarantee that sanitary items will be available.

If a patient isn’t mobile, they are pretty much stuck. There are often regulations in place that prevent nurses and care assistants from purchasing items on behalf of patients. To further complicate the issue inpatients are usually not supposed to leave their hospital ward.

Menstrual cup | HeadStuff.org

Providing sanitary towels and tampons on hospital wards would be a big step towards improving patient care and ensuring all patients have dignity. Can you imagine what it is like to find yourself in hospital, and to then have to worry about your period starting? About the embarrassment of bloodstained sheets and knowing you can’t do anything to stop it.

Elsewhere steps are being taken to tackle this issue in different arenas. In August 2018 the Scottish government announced that free sanitary products would be available in all schools, colleges and Universities. They are the first country to take such a step to tackle period poverty. In Dublin a brilliant charity called Homeless Period Ireland are working towards providing sanitary items to Ireland’s homeless.

Women do not choose to menstruate and to maintain cleanliness and dignity need readily available sanitary products while in hospital. Menstruation is not an issue that can be ignored anymore. A documentary about menstruation even just won an academy award.

It is now time to bring the focus onto Irish hospitals and to provide vulnerable women and girls dignity.