HRT shortage ‘not acceptable in the 21st century’ - doctor supports calls from pharmacists to change law

Health Secretary Sajid Javid recently announced a HRT tsar will be appointed to help with the supply shortage

The continued shortage of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) medication in the UK “is not acceptable in the 21st century”, a doctor and advocate for women’s health has said.

HRT is a treatment to relieve symptoms of the menopause - which can include anxiety, hot flushes and insomnia - by replacing hormones that are at a lower level as you approach the menopause.

An estimated one million women in Britain are on HRT, which comes in a variety of forms, including patches, pills and gels.

However, the shortage is leaving many women with debilitating symptoms, with some sharing their prescriptions and asking friends to buy medicines abroad for them, while others have reported to be feeling suicidal due to suffering the menopause symptoms without the medication.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) is now calling for a simple law change around prescribing, which could help ease the treatment crisis.

Currently, pharmacists must dispense the exact product and amount of medication on the prescription, and if it is not available then a substitute cannot be given out without consulting the GP who prescribed the medication.

The RPS now wants pharmacists in England to be able to alter GP prescriptions and make medicine swaps when appropriate.

‘This is dangerous and just shows how much work needs to be done for women’s health’

Women’s intimate health expert, Dr Shirin Lakhani, has welcomed calls for the Health Secretary Sajid Javid to change the law to allow pharmacists to alter prescriptions during medical shortages, including the HRT supply crisis.

Dr Lakhani said: "Urgent action is needed to resolve the shortage of HRT as soon as possible.

"The HRT shortage isn’t just leaving women desperate, it is leaving them very unwell and causing some to take desperate actions by using the black market to obtain their HRT.

“This is dangerous and just shows how much work needs to be done for women’s health. This is not acceptable in the 21st century.”

She strongly urges women not to share HRT as it could lead to serious side effects, but she said she “understands why they are doing this”.

She added: "I would urge the Government to allow pharmacists to be able to make minor changes to a prescription to allow them to substitute a suitable alternative, for example e.g. an oestrogen patch or spray instead of a gel or an alternative brand of gel.

"At the moment, a pharmacist has to give the exact prescription written by a doctor but if that has run out, they cannot offer an alternative.

“If pharmacists were allowed to make a small amendment, they could offer a substitute HRT. This would help ease the crisis while manufacturers increase their supply."

‘This is a very real issue for women’s health’

Dr Lakhani said although HRT “is not a luxury” it is often “treated as one”, and she believes there is a perception that it’s not a big deal if women don’t take HRT for a while, but “that is very wrong”.

“The impact on a woman’s mental health is huge.  Women are more likely to have to leave the workplace because of an inability to get hold of hormones,” said Dr Lakhani.

“It is always packaged as a choice but it is just like insulin or thyroxine and we don’t see the lack of supply for these drugs but we do with women’s health problems - why?”.

Dr Lakhani said she welcomed the news of an HRT tsar as it would help put women’s health at the top of the agenda, but hopes “this isn’t just lip service by the Government to appease campaigners.”

She added: “We are no clearer on when the HRT supply shortage will be resolved. This is causing a huge amount of anxiety to many women.

“This is a very real issue for women’s health and one that we need to speak up about.”