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Patients dignity compromised as BMA report shows need for sanitary product provision in hospitals

The BMA is calling for sanitary products to be made freely available across all hospitals in the UK as doctors say that it is essential to the health, dignity and wellbeing of inpatients.

An investigation by the BMA has found that a significant number of hospital trusts and health boards in the UK (42%) either do not supply sanitary products at all, will only supply small amounts, or will supply them only in the case of an emergency.

In addition, the research found that no trusts or health boards in the UK had a dedicated policy in place and the provision of sanitary items varied significantly. The findings revealed that:

-     In many cases, sanitary products were available on a gynaecology or maternity ward only;

-     Sanitary products were not available to purchase on any hospital site in 14% of trusts and health boards;

-     Some trusts and health boards reported spending nothing on sanitary products for in patients and for those that did  provide sanitary products, the average spend was only £0.71p per bed per year;

-     A number of trusts and health boards listed toiletry items such as razors and shaving foam as being freely provided to patients during their stay but not sanitary products.

Having access to sanitary products, the BMA believes, is a basic need, just like food, and hospitals should set a strong example by providing these items for those patients who cannot afford them and for those who may unexpectedly find themselves in hospital often without other people to rely on.

BMA medical students committee member, Eleanor Wilson, who championed the issue prompting further research from the BMA, and who is also President of the Red Alert Society at the University of Glasgow which was set up to provide sanitary products to vulnerable women in the City, said:

 “When patients are under our care in the NHS, we need to make sure that we make them feel as welcome and as looked after as possible. By not providing them with something so key to their health and wellbeing, it has a big impact on their sense of self-worth – we are effectively withholding that dignity from them.

 “While some hospitals have good provision, in others, patients have had to face embarrassment and hope that relatives can bring them in, which for some is not an option, and it can often become more challenging for young and teenage paediatric patients.

 “It is really important that the provision of sanitary products is consistent and standardised across hospitals. Like razors, shaving foam, toilet paper or food, it should be part of a basic package that is available to patients when they come under our care in hospital.”

This investigation is part of a wider campaign by the BMA to put an end to period poverty as there many people who cannot afford sanitary items and this has a  profound impact on their sense of self-worth and dignity. As such, the BMA argues that the impact on the wellbeing of a patient far outweighs the relatively small cost to the NHS.

BMA board of science chair, Prof. Dame Parveen Kumar, said:

“It’s highly concerning that many hospitals do not provide sanitary products for inpatients who need them and as such, the BMA is calling for them to be made freely available. 

“A hospital stay can be a very challenging experience and is often unexpected. This should not be further exacerbated by the indignity and embarrassment that comes from not having access to these essential products.

“As well as the provision of products, trusts and health boards should provide clear information on how patients can access these either prior to, or during their stay, depending on the circumstance of their visit.

“Hospitals have an opportunity to lead the way in tackling period poverty and should be a shining exmaple of the progress that can be made on this important issue. Something which may seem not that significant can have a major impact on a person’s wellbeing and health services across the UK have the ability to make this important step.”


Notes to Editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

1.  Link to BMA investigation can be found here.

2.  Previous BMA work on period poverty can be read here.

3.  Letter from BMA to Simon Stevens calling for sanitary provision is in hospitals and can be found on this webpage.

For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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