Thousands of women are struggling to sleep or work due to a nationwide hormone replacement therapy (HRT) shortage that has left some suicidal, activists have warned.
An estimated one million women in the UK rely on it HRT“which is available in pills, patches and gels” to relieve the debilitating effects of menopause such as anxiety, hot flashes and insomnia, The guard reported. But nationwide supply problems “have resulted in some women buying them on the black market or asking friends to buy medicines for them abroad.”
This was announced by Health Minister Sajid Javid The Post on Sunday that he would try to “ensure stocks could meet the hugely increasing demand” by appointing a new HRT czar, whose role would be modeled on that of Covid Vaccine Taskforce chair Kate Bingham.
Javid’s intervention has been welcomed by activists including Labor MP Carolyn Harris, co-chair of the recently formed UK Menopause Taskforce. But Harris added: “We should never have been in this position.”
Why is there HRT deficiency?
NHS prescriptions for HRT treatment in England have more than doubled in the last five years. According to the latest figures from Oxford University Open Prescribing science data website, nearly 538,000 prescriptions for HRT treatment were issued in December 2021, compared to 238,000 in January 2017.
This surge in demand has been attributed to “celebrity campaigns, political action and greater media coverage of menopause” and “reducing concerns about potential side effects of HRT,” according to The Mail on Sunday.
Covid-related ingredient supply issues have also been blamed for acute HRT shortages in recent weeks. Women’s Health Secretary Maria Caulfield told the newspaper that suppliers had assured her that depleted stocks should be back to normal by June.
But as supplies of the most popular forms of HRT are currently running low, GPs are being forced to prescribe alternatives. And the stocks of these alternatives are now slowly running out.
In announcing his HRT czar plan, the health secretary said: “I am well aware of how much women rely on HRT and that some are struggling to get certain medications.”
Javid said he will also “urgently call a meeting with suppliers to consider how we can work together to improve supply in the short and long term.”
The minister is facing calls to “change the law to allow pharmacists to change prescriptions in the event of drug shortages,” he said The guard.
Claire Anderson, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “At the moment pharmacists cannot change HRT prescriptions and must therefore refer women back to their GP if a medicine is unavailable.
“The ability for pharmacists to do this will save time for patients, pharmacists and doctors, and relieve women of the anxiety of waiting for medicines.”
As part of the proposed reorganization, community pharmacists could also “change quantities, strengths and formulation of HRT and other medicines dispensed,” the paper added.
Javid’s intervention “follows growing concern from MPs and campaigners that women are suffering because ministers are not taking the issue seriously enough,” The Mail said on Sunday.
And some “local NHS authorities are accused of making things worse by offering few HRT treatments”, although women often “have to try several types before finding one that works well for them”.
Tina Backhouse, of pharmaceutical company Theramex, which makes the HRT pill Bijuva, said: ‘When we have shortages, this problem of limited drug capabilities really bites. We see that now. There is definitely a zip code lottery when it comes to HRT.”
UK Menopause Taskforce co-chair Harris blamed this so-called lottery on “bad planning” by both health bosses and the government. One form of treatment, a pill, only available to women in certain parts of the country has been “stacked high in warehouses” in some parts of the country, while stocks of a popular HRT gel are “empty,” she said The Telegraph.
“The company that actually makes this product and the government didn’t anticipate what kind of demand there would be,” she said.
Activists have also blamed “medical sexism and a lack of education” for women suffering from debilitating menopausal symptoms “which include depression and brain fog,” The Guardian said.
Research suggests that “the UK economy is losing 14 million working days a year to menopausal symptoms,” the newspaper reported.
According to Taskforce chief Harris, “Women weren’t listened to, women were ignored, other conditions were prescribed and diagnosed, and menopause wasn’t even considered.”
“For a woman going through menopause, this hormone replacement therapy is as important as insulin is for a diabetic,” she added.
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Special Committee on Women and Equality. Nokes told Parliament last week that pharmacies in her Romsey and Southampton North constituency were completely running out of an estrogen gel, which allows her and other “women of a certain age” to “sleep and work competently”.
Nokes told The Mail on Sunday: “You can’t help feeling that if this was a drug used exclusively by men, they would have sent in the army by now to ramp up production.”
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/science-health/956537/medical-sexism-whats-behind-the-acute-hrt-shortage HRT deficiency: did ‘medical sexism’ cause the menopausal drug crisis?