Innovation & Enterprise


Academic spotlight: Creating the UK’s first menopause education programme

Professor Joyce Harper, Dr Shema Tariq and Dr Nicky Keay share their experiences of pooling their expertise to create the first public facing UK menopause education and support programme.

Professor Joyce Harper, Dr Shema Tariq and Dr Nicky Keay

Three UCL academics have teamed up with leading women’s health charities to design a UK education programme for women experiencing the menopause. The work is being supported with knowledge exchange funding and expertise from UCL Innovation & Enterprise.

The project is being led by Professor Joyce Harper (UCL EGA Institute for Women’s Health), Dr Shema Tariq (UCL Institute for Global Health) and Dr Nicky Keay (UCL Division of Medicine).

Joyce, Shema and Nicky share the idea behind the project, and their thoughts on knowledge exchange.

Creating the UK’s first menopause education programme

Nicky: We’re all individually passionate about women’s health and were all doing a lot in it in our own areas. I’ve recently written a book on hormones and health, which covered the whole journey of what happens to your hormones as a woman through your lifetime. That journey is complicated and always changing, and the menopause is one of those significant transitions. It’s going to affect every single woman at some point in their life, and we’re going to spend a third of our lives in it. But many women have never had any education of any kind around it, so struggle with symptoms that seriously affect their quality of life alone. 

Joyce: We first started talking about a group of us getting together on this at an Innovation Challenge event organised by the Business and Innovation Partnerships team in UCL Innovation & Enterprise last year. The event was all about encouraging participants to collaborate on innovative ideas and solutions. Nicky was chairing it and I was on the panel and it was then we realised we were all working in our own areas doing relevant work, and that we needed to get everyone together to address this gaping hole in women’s health support.

Shema: The idea for a UK education and support programme came about in relation to conversations about the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). I’d just come back off maternity leave and spoke about their pregnancy courses. We thought how good it would be if we could create something like that for the menopause, where people could access reliable information from experts. But the critical thing is that they’re with other people going through the same thing. Research I’ve conducted with women living with HIV has highlighted the need and strong desire for peer support around menopause. So we want to help people develop those local communities of support here, too.

Nicky: We’re setting our sights high with this. This is going to be the first UK programme of its kind. Ideally it will be available for free through the NHS, so that when a woman goes to see her GP, rather than just being handed information about hormone replacement therapy (HRT), as is the case now, she’ll be directed to our programme, and will be able to find a local course near where she lives. And it will be good, trusted, evidence-based information on symptoms and coping strategies, backed by the leading organisations in this area. 

Accessing knowledge exchange support

Joyce: This programme has the potential to impact the lives of women across the country. So we knew from the outset we had to involve all the relevant experts in shaping this, as well as people experiencing the menopause themselves. It has to be based on research and it has to be based on what women want.

We started by getting an Innovation Network funding grant from UCL Innovation & Enterprise, which has been crucial in helping us get the project going. We’ve got the backing of the big menopause organisations like Wellbeing of Women, Sophia Forum, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Menopause Society.

We’ve set up a really strong Advisory Board who are inputting into this. And we’ve put a survey out to 2,000 women. We want to know what women need, and how they want it to work, and we’ll be co-designing the programme with them. This will be shaped by women, for women. 

Nicky: UCL Innovation & Enterprise helped us access the funds to do the preliminary work, but have also crucially guided us on how best to go about this. There are so many people at UCL who have amazing ideas but certainly from my experience as a doctor we don’t have experience of taking research outside academia. Whether that’s applying for the grant or sorting the terms of reference. We wouldn’t have known how to do that on our own.

We’re moving onto focus groups next, before we map out the programme content, and recruit and train the facilitators over the next phase. 

Believing in what you’re doing

Shema: To push a project like this forward, you have to believe in what you’re doing, and we all absolutely care about creating something that’s going to help women not only cope with this stage in their lives, but flourish in it. What’s more, we fundamentally believe we are the right team and this is the right institution to do it.  

Joyce: Collectively we all care about taking our research out into the world. It’s no good if it’s just sitting in journals. We need to use what we know to help people, and we need to shape the conversation around this, too, and bust the myths. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the menopause. 

This project backed by the UCL Innovation & Enterprise team has helped us secure a lot of great media opportunities, and that’s gold dust for us as academics. It means we get to talk about the things that matter. We get to talk about the importance of making people in their mid to later lives visible, and attending to their needs. To be part of shaping that conversation, that’s a very strong driver for us to keep doing what we’re doing. 

Help co-design the UK’s first menopause education and support programme by taking part in this survey. It should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete.