Free provision of sanitary products to in-patients
In 2018 the BMA submitted freedom of information requests to all NHS Trusts and Health Boards on whether they provided inpatients with sanitary products. Our results showed that there was poor provision of sanitary products for NHS in-patients who needed them.
We recommended that sanitary products should be provided for free, readily available to all in-patients and easily accessible by hospital staff. To support this:
- trusts and health boards should have a policy in place to ensure that there is adequate and consistent provision of sanitary products or write this into existing policies concerned with patient care
- trusts and health boards should include clear information to patients on how to access sanitary products in the literature distributed prior to a planned stay in hospital.
Summary of results
Out of 223 FOI requests sent, 187 responses were received; a response rate of 83.9%.
- The majority of trusts and health boards stated that sanitary products were readily available for patients. However, many respondents explicitly stated that they only held small amounts of sanitary products, available for emergencies, and often with a stated expectation that patients should either purchase or receive their own from family/ friends as soon as possible.
- There were also a number of respondents that held sanitary products for patients, but only on gynaecology or maternity wards, which suggests that they are only purchased for clinical need rather than for hygiene and wellbeing.
- No trusts or health boards indicated that they had an explicit policy in place to cover the provision of sanitary products.
- 48 (26%) respondents said that sanitary products were available to purchase at some of the sites within their trust or health board, but not at every site.
- 47 (25%) respondents stated that sites within their trust or health board had shops at which sanitary products could be purchased, but either explicitly stated that there were no vending machines, or didn’t reference the availability of sanitary product vending machines. These items therefore could not be purchased when hospital shops are closed.
- 37 (20%) trusts and health boards either stated that products could be purchased at all sites in shops and vending machines, or didn’t provide detailed enough information to suggest that products weren’t readily available.
- 28 (15%) respondents were unable to provide information about the availability of sanitary products to purchase.
- 27 (14%) trusts and health boards indicated that there were no facilities to purchase sanitary products at any of their sites.
- The quality of the data on expenditure on sanitary products varied across respondents. What the received data suggests, however, is that free sanitary product provision to all in-patients across the NHS would not be prohibitively expensive.
- 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, despite either stating that they didn’t supply sanitary products, or that they only provided them in case of an emergency.
After the BMA published its recommendations based on the FOI results in February 2019, the government swiftly responded. In May 2019, NHS England announced that from July 2019, free sanitary products would be provided for all inpatients who needed them. BMA were specifically credited as a key partner in this policy development.
Recent developments and ongoing work
There have been other recent developments in the free provision of sanitary products around the UK.
In the government’s Budget in March 2020, the Chancellor announced VAT would be removed from all sanitary products. This marked the abolishment of the so called ‘tampon tax’.
In Scotland free sanitary products are available in all schools, colleges and universities, and a pilot that began in Aberdeen has since been expanded to provide free products to low income households across the country.
We are supporting a government approved Bill is currently going through the Scottish Parliament that would make sanitary products free for ‘anyone who needs them’.
In Wales, £1m of government money has been committed to councils to tackle period poverty in the areas of highest need, and a council in Northern Ireland has become the first in the country to consider providing sanitary products for free in some public buildings.