All NHS hospitals in England will be required to offer free tampons or sanitary products to any patient who needs them from this summer, health leaders have said.
Changes announced by NHS England on Sunday come after campaigners highlighted inequality in hospitals handing out shaving kits for male patients, but not offering free pads, tampons or panty liners.
While many hospitals do provide sanitary products, some require patients to buy their own from the hospital shop or, in some cases, have had nothing available at all.
Campaigners have been calling for more recognition of the damaging effects of period poverty on women’s work, education and mental health, and during an already anxious time in hospital this can be made worse.
Last year the Scottish government rolled out a £500,000 scheme to give free sanitary products to low-income women across Scotland.
English hospitals will now be mandated to do the same for all patients from this summer after revisions to the NHS’s standard contract for hospitals from April 2019.
“It’s fundamental that we give patients the best experience possible during what can be a stressful time of their life, and by providing sanitary products the NHS can prevent unnecessary embarrassment and leave people to focus on their recovery,” said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.
The new rule would be particularly important for NHS mental health trusts where patients, many of them young women, may be living on the wards for an extended stay.
Medical students and the British Medical Association (BMA) have lobbied for the change after revealing “patchy or non-existent” provision in some areas, despite the minor cost of providing products.
Dame Parveen Kumar, chair of the BMA’s Board of Science, said the result “brings an end to indignity on top of ill health”.
“As well being an important influence in the shift that is necessary towards ending period poverty, this will be a relief for many patients who will no longer face the embarrassment and stress of not being able to freely and easily access sanitary pads and tampons.”
The announcement was also welcomed by the charity Freedom4Girls, which campaigns against period poverty.
A survey published in February revealed more than a quarter of females have missed either work or school because of period poverty.
Freedom4Girls founder Tina Leslie said: “This is a great initiative and is a fantastic step forward.
“NHS England have stepped up to the mark and been proactive in ensuring that hospital patients get tampons and sanitary towels.”