Doctors call on government to end 'period poverty' with free products
Tampons and sanitary towels should be provided free by the Government, leading doctors have said.
The British Medical Association (BMA) backed a motion calling for an end to "period poverty" at its annual representative meeting.
Hospitals have also been urged to give in-patients access to products throughout their stay to ensure a dignified recovery for those menstruating.
Eleanor Wilson, who proposed the motion on behalf of the BMA's medical students committee, told delegates: "By providing sanitary products for free universally, not only do we sidestep the cost of means testing but also make the statement that access to sanitary products is a basic human right for all, uniting our population in a shift towards equality."
Giancarlo Bell, a medical student and campaigner against period poverty, said: "We need to assess if we are going to be the kind of society that wants people to just bleed into socks or through their clothes, or if we are willing to ask the Tories to divert some of the Treasury money to an actual worthwhile cause."
The motion, passed on Tuesday, calls on the BMA to lobby the Government to provide sanitary products more widely for free, and to ensure all in-patients are offered them while staying in hospital.
Ms Wilson, speaking during a debate ahead of the vote, said: "We do not ask patients to bring in toilet paper or food so why are we asking them to bring in their own sanitary products?
"Patients in hospitals should expect to have all of their basic needs met to allow a quick and dignified recovery. This is currently not happening."
Dr Shreelata Datta, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said she finds it "hugely embarrassing" when she is unable to provide sanitary protection to patients, despite products costing as little as one pence each.
"It is difficult to provide care and for women to retain their dignity with heavy bleeding, without any form of protection," she said.
"Patients are forced to improvise or use sanitary products for longer than they should."
She added: "In 21st century medicine this is a basic need that we can and should fulfil for all of our patients."
Mr Bell said homeless women are "desperate" for sanitary products, adding: "Any one of us could be out here, walking about town and be caught short without any money.
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"Someone could be in a domestic abuse situation and not have their own financial control to go out and buy products.
"These are the kinds of situations in which a safety net like this needs to exist."
A scheme has already been launched in Scotland to offer free sanitary products to women from low-income homes.
Responding to the vote, Mita Dhullipala, co-chair of the BMA medical students committee, said: "Period supplies are essential but they can be expensive.
"It is unacceptable that there are still people who cannot access them, usually those who are vulnerable or on low incomes.
"Many resort to using toilet paper, scraps of fabric, or sometimes nothing at all.
"Period poverty can be stopped by making sure these products are available to those who can't afford them."
A Government spokeswoman said: "No woman should have to go without sanitary products, which is why we're helping millions of families meet the everyday costs of living and keep more of what they earn.
"In addition, over £47 million has been awarded to charities across the UK supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged women and girls since the Tampon Fund was introduced in 2015.
"We strongly support cutting VAT to zero on sanitary products, but we cannot do this under current EU law.
"Therefore we are currently charging 5% VAT - the lowest possible rate - and we've introduced legislation in the Finance Act 2016 to cut this altogether."