Published by BBC NEWS - 22nd April 2022

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A national shortage of HRT products will be leaving some menopausal women unable to sleep and work competently, parliament has been told.

Chair of the Women and Equality Committee Caroline Nokes said pharmacy supplies of oestrogen gel had run out in her Hampshire constituency.

One manufacturer has reported exceptionally high demand for its gel in recent months.

The government said alternatives were available to women.

Oestrogel manufacturer Besins Healthcare says it is working to meet the increased supply needs.

Some women in Northern Ireland are borrowing each other’s HRT medication due to supply shortages, according to a menopause support group.

Drug gaps

During business questions in the House of Commons on Thursday, Ms Nokes called for a debate to ensure “we can get the supplies that we need”.

She said: “Pharmacies in Romsey and Southampton North have completely run out, which leaves women of a certain age – and before my honourable friend from North Dorset makes a comment… yes, I declare an interest – without access to the oestrogen gel, which enables us to sleep and to work competently.”

Millions of women in the UK experience menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, low mood and anxiety. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help with this.

It’s a taboo issue which has been raised by TV presenter Davina McCall, as well as other high-profile celebrities. She campaigned for prescription costs to be cut to help more women access the treatment.

In October, the Government announced new policies related to menopause support, including changes to prescription charges.

It said the cost of repeat prescriptions for HRT would be significantly reduced in England.

That means women will be able to pay £18.70 once a year – saving up to £200 annually. However, Pharmacy Minister Maria Caulfield recently said the move would not be enacted until April 2023.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) condemned the delay, saying it will “frustrate many”.

Chair of RPS in England, Thorrun Govind, said: “Women experiencing the menopause need support to stay well and remain in the workplace. For some, HRT prescriptions are an essential part of this, but also a financial drain during a cost-of-living crisis.

“We believe everyone should have access to the medicines they need, regardless of ability to pay, and will continue to call on the Government to scrap prescription charges in England altogether.”

HRT has grown in popularity, and prescriptions have more than doubled in England since 2017. Some 583,000 prescriptions were made in December 2021 alone, across all NHS GP practices in England.

The British Menopause Society advises women who are experiencing difficulty obtaining oestrogen gel to consider other HRT preparations, even if they are not an exact match.

It said the pandemic had made accessing treatment harder for some.

Dr Nighat Arif, who is a GP, told BBC’s Women’s Hour: “We have been struggling to get supply of Oestrogel.” She said the treatment was a lifeline for some women, preventing HRT symptoms and protecting their health.

She said she was prescribing alternative treatments, but that was time-consuming and could be distressing and problematic for the patient. “They are slightly different and they might not be suitable for that individual.”

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