Could Norfolk's new 'Healthy Hormone Hut' help you manage the menopause?

Donna Loose, women's health nurse

Donna Loose, women's health nurse, at her sheep-themed glamping site, Counting Sheep where she hosts one-to-one hormone health sessions - Credit: Denise Bradley

Never before has the discussion around women's health been so prevalent. 

Just last week the Menopause Mandate group, including celebrities Davina McCall, Mariella Frostrup and Lisa Snowdon, presented its aims to MPs at House of Commons, highlighting not only the devastating lack of support for peri-menopausal and menopausal women, but also the severe blow caused by shortages of vital treatment. 

The message is this: the system as it stands is just not good enough. 

In Norfolk, specialist nurse Donna Loose, whose consultations, workshops, one-to-one support and CBT services have become a lifeline for many, is on a mission to help women in the county on their hormonal journey, from teenhood to menopause. 

Donna shares her years of experience and knowledge several ways. Two days a week she is an NHS nurse at the Birchwood Surgery in North Walsham. She works with Peppy Health, an organisation delivering wellbeing services to large corporate companies. And, most recently, Donna has begun working under her own steam, going into communities delivering menopause workshops to groups of women who wouldn’t normally have access to them. 

It was while working as a nurse at a GP surgery that Donna noticed a lack of service provision in family planning and sexual health. So, determined to make a difference, she went about creating a role which filled the need, initially working with focus groups in high schools and colleges. 

“But as time moved on I realised that hormonal changes affect the more mature woman as well, so I undertook my menopause training with the British Menopause Society,” she explains. 

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That was six years ago, and since then Donna’s work to empower women pre, post and during the menopause has taken off in its own right. “I’ve built on that training to provide a menopause service for women, because a woman gets to a certain age where their contraceptive needs are still there, but they may also need that peri-menopause and menopause advice as well,” says Donna. 

“The people I see during the day really range along the hormonal timeline. It’s 12-year-olds up to 65-year-olds and anything in between. 

“In general practice, you don’t always have women’s health specialist nurses, it’s just how I’ve developed my specific role, so we’re very few and far between,” she says. “A lot of women don’t have access to that sound information and education.” 

Donna Loose, women's health nurse, at her sheep-themed glamping site, Counting Sheep, in Trunch

Donna Loose, women's health nurse, at her sheep-themed glamping site, Counting Sheep, in Trunch, where she will host menopause retreats - Credit: Denise Bradley

Running community workshops is something Donna launched six months ago – an idea spurred on by her determination to tackle the ‘menopause postcode lottery’. 

 “I wanted to support more community-based events,” she explains. “Initially, me, the practice manager at Birchwood Surgery, Wayne Catchpole, and Amy Yaxley, who did all the admin, set up an online project with the called Healthier North Walsham. It was developed within the surgery during the pandemic, as we realised we needed to reach out to our communities because doors were shut. 

“I started to do some videos - I did one on cervical cytology [screening], for example, and it got 1,000 views, and we realised we were onto something. Then we did a women’s health month with me talking on Facebook Live. That reached around 2,500 women.” 

Donna has held workshops in Mundesley church rooms (with more planned there), at North Walsham Library, and at Junkyard Market in Norwich.  

Much is covered during the sessions (usually sponsored by local businesses), and if it’s a symptom of menopause, anything goes. “In my workshops, I’m very open and nothing shocks me!” Donna laughs. “I’ll talk about things like how menopause might affect your sex life and relationship, and people tell me, ‘You’ve said what I thought!’  

“You can see how relieved they are that we’re on that level and we can talk about everything. It brings women together to network and support each other and say it as it is.” 

Donna Loose, women's health nurse, in one of the shepherd's huts at her sheep-themed glamping site

Donna Loose, women's health nurse, in one of the shepherd's huts at her sheep-themed glamping site, Counting Sheep in Trunch where she will host menopause retreats - Credit: Denise Bradley

Donna wanted to take things one step further, which led her to set up the Healthy Hormone Hut just a few weeks ago. 

“During lockdown, while I was nursing, my husband built five shepherds huts in our back garden!” she says. “We run it as a glamping site and have two bell tents as well. Within that now sits what I call my Healthy Hormone Hut, a shepherd’s hut which my husband [Stuart] built me recently. I’ve just started doing my one-to-one private consultations from there.” 

The requests Donna regularly receives confirms what a big demand there still is for more information to be made available when it comes to the menopause, something the recent Davina McCall documentaries have highlighted.  

“If we think about what Davina has done for women and menopausal advice, it’s been fantastic,” says Donna. “I’m really mindful that, although it’s great to get the information out there, you then need to have that support network available. Through my work I’m just trying to be creative as to how best to help women. 

“If you have an understanding of what’s happening in the body, you don’t need to be so fearful. There’s more acceptance of it. You can understand why you feel the way you do and what you can do to support yourself, whether that’s healthy lifestyle choices, alternative therapies, or medicines. When women have the information, they feel confident to say to their GP, ‘I’ve had this consultation, this is the research, and this is what I would like.’” 

While Donna’s workshops don’t provide bespoke, recommended treatment plans, it is something she can create during a one-to-one session. 

“More often, it’s through the one-to-ones that I would write a report as to what the predominant symptoms are and what the lifestyle changes could be. That might be an oestrogen-based diet and looking at which food groups offer natural oestrogen, or use of supplements which have data and research underpinning them. If they would benefit from CBT, I’ll put them on a waiting list for a course. 

“If someone wants to go the medicinal route, I look at their risk factors, I gauge what would be the most recommended treatment regime, as HRT regimes in their own right are very complex, and then advise on that in the report. It’s a non-prescribing service because there are so many rules and regulations around it, but it enables women to have advice and a written report to take to a GP.” 

Donna's clinical background brings confidence and comfort to the women she works with, as does her own personal experience. “I’m proud that people trust me - it’s a very privileged place to be,” she says. 

“I have the clinical knowledge, the research, the evidence and underpinning data in what I call my ‘toolkit’. Then I have my own journey as a woman. I have children, and I’m entering the peri-menopause, so I speak from a personal and professional level.” 

It’s onwards and upwards for Donna and her one-woman menopause mission. Looking ahead, she’s planning a menopause weekend retreat at her glamping site, Counting Sheep, and has plans to hold workshops for men who want to help their partners through the menopause. 

Donna can be contacted through Don’t be Sheepish on Facebook. Or email dontbesheepish52@gmail.com