Women face a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), despite growing demand.

What does HRT mean? 

The treatment of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is used to treat symptoms and replace hormones at lower levels as women age, is called Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Most menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, hot flushes or mood swings can be treated with HRT.

How is supply currently positioned?

According to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, prescriptions for HRT in England have increased more than twice in five years. They went from 238k in January 2017, to 531k in December 2020.

According to the Department of Health, HRT demand has soared with a 38% increase in prescriptions over the past seven years.

Why is demand so high?

According to the DH, there’s more awareness about menopause and greater confidence in HRT prescribing by GPs.

Is there a knock-on effect from this increased demand?

Women have been reported to need to take their prescriptions to avoid acute shortages. Some women are said to feel suicidal from the severe symptoms of menopause, which they don’t get without medication.

According to the DH most of the available HRT products are in great supply in the UK, however, a number of factors have caused shortages including Oestrogel.

What’s the Government doing to address it?

The Government had announced at the end of April that Madelaine McTernan, director general of the Vaccine Taskforce, was to lead a new HRT Supply Taskforce.

The DH stated that her role would be to identify ways to help the HRT supply chain, and deal with shortages faced by women on a small number of products.

Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, said that Ms McTernan would ‘use her exceptional skills and expertise’ to continue the success story of the Vaccine Taskforce in order to increase the supply of essential medicines for women all over the country.

The DH said that three of the most in-demand HRT products were being restricted from dispensing.

These include Oestrogel pumppack 750mcg/actuationgel Ovestin 1mg lotion and Premique lower dose 0.3mg/1.5mg modified release tablets

SSPs will expire July 29, and they are intended to allow community pharmacists supply three specific HRT products according the protocol, rather than the prescribed written prescription. They do not require authorisation from the prescribing physician.

According to the DH, this would ‘even out distribution’ of Oestrogel and other in-demand products.

Which task force is responsible for HRT?

According to the Government, the taskforce will work with HRT suppliers in order to gain a better understanding of the supply issues and the best ways to resolve them.

The NHS Business Services Authority will work together with it to obtain real-time HRT dispensing information in order to better understand supply and demand, as well as what’s driving shortages.

It is expected that the taskforce engages with other professional bodies, including the Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee. This will support pharmacies and prescribers to respond to an increase in demand.

How about prescription fees?

The DH said it is taking action to increase access and reduce the cost of HRT by allowing women to pay a one-off charge equivalent to two single prescription charges, currently £18.70, for all their HRT prescriptions for a year.

The prepayment certificate is known as HRT access for women. It allows them to have HRT at a monthly basis. It will become effective in April 2023.

Do you think this is too soon?

The RPS disagreed. They described the timeline to be ‘disappointing’.

Thorrun Govind (chair of the RPS England) stated: “Delaying this step will frustrate many people who already pay monthly HRT prescriptions, and will further drive the health inequalities that women already experience across the country.

HRT prescriptions, she said, are essential but can also be a financial drain when there is a crisis in the cost of living. Therefore, she demanded that prescriptions for HRT treatment should not be charged at all in England.