The Health Secretary was today told to tackle the country’s hormone replacement therapy (HRT) shortage crisis himself rather than appoint a tsar.

Labour MP Carolyn Harris welcomed Sajid Javid‘s pledge to get a grip on the issue but said it could be sorted ‘very, very quickly’ with better planning and less red tape.

Mr Javid announced yesterday that he intends to appoint an HRT tsar after experts warned the crisis could drive some menopausal women to suicide. 

There are growing reports of desperate women turning to the black market or meeting strangers in car parks to buy and swap prescriptions.

Two in three pharmacists in England face daily shortages of HRT drugs which soothe debilitating symptoms of the menopause including anxiety, insomnia and joint pain.

Ms Harris, co-chairwoman of the UK menopause taskforce, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is doing something about this, because somebody needed to, because up until now they’ve not bothered.

‘But it doesn’t really need a tsar, if I’m honest. He could do this, he could decide to loosen the regulations on the formularies and make this product available across the country. It could happen very, very quickly.’

Mr Javid said ministers would use lessons learned from the Covid vaccine rollout to make sure supplies were meeting the high demand.

Kate Bingham was made head of a taskforce whose sole responsibility was to source and buy huge quantities of jabs months in advance.

This map reveals the top 10 best and worst areas in England for people to be prescribed hormone replacement therapy medications based on their entire population. Southport and Formby in Merseyside enjoyed the highest level in the country at 2.2 per cent whereas as Leicester City had the lowest at just 0.54 per cent

Gels are the most popular form (stock image) and have been hit hardest by shortages

Gels are the most popular form (stock image) and have been hit hardest by shortages 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, pictured, announced he would appoint a new HRT tsar to tackle the crisis

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, pictured, announced he would appoint a new HRT tsar to tackle the crisis

About 1.5million women a year experience debilitating symptoms of the menopause, including disturbed sleep, hot flushes, anxiety, depression and joint pain. Only a fraction are prescribed drugs to combat the symptoms.

But a national shortage of oestrogen gel since the start of the year is forcing women to take desperate measures.

Ms Harris said ‘bad planning’ was behind the HRT drug shortages and she called for easier access to the drugs, which cannot be bought over the counter.

‘The company that actually makes this product and the Government didn’t foresee the kind of demand there was going to be on it,’ she said.

Ms Harris added: ‘The trouble with the menopause is for far too long women have not been listened to, women have been ignored, they’ve been prescribed and diagnosed with other conditions and the menopause wasn’t even considered…

‘For a menopausal woman this HRT is as important as insulin is to a diabetic.’

Panicking: Millie Kendall, pictured, who runs the British Beauty Council, admitted she was so desperate she bought Oestrogel from the black market online. She also bought a dose from a work colleague’s mother for £50

Panicking: Millie Kendall, pictured, who runs the British Beauty Council, admitted she was so desperate she bought Oestrogel from the black market online. She also bought a dose from a work colleague’s mother for £50

What is behind the shortage?

The problem has arisen due to surging demand.

The number of monthly HRT prescriptions has more than doubled in the last five years.

Growing demand has been attributed to more awareness and fading stigma about the menopause.

Prescriptions for one popular form of HRT gel, Oestrogel, have risen dramatically, with 500,000 now written each month, compared with 300,000 a year ago.

Besins, the firm that supplies it to the NHS, has admitted it is struggling to meet ‘extraordinary’ demand, but has pledged to increase production.

But ministers have blamed manufacturing problems and a lack of key ingredients, which they say have been made worse during the pandemic.

In the meantime, GPs have been forced to prescribe alternatives. 

But supplies of those gels are now also running short and women are reluctant to try alternative treatments, or even go back to taking HRT tablets, which are not as popular because they have a higher risk of blood clots and strokes.

What products are low or out of stock? 

Out of stock: 

Besins Healthcare (UK) Oestrogel systemic estradiol gel

Indivina 2mg estradiol + 5mg medroxyprogesterone acetate

FemSeven Sequi (estradiol/levonorgestrel)

FemSeven 100 (estradiol)

Low stock: 

Progynova 1mg estradiol tablets

Progynova 2 mg estradiol tablets

What alternatives are in stock?

Utrogestan (micronised progesterone) 100 mg

Testogel 50 mg, gel sachet

Testogel 40.5 mg gel sachet

Off-label use for female testosterone replacement (5 mg a day)

Imvaggis vaginal 0.03 mg estriol vaginal pessary

Lenzetto 1.53 mg/spray

Vagirux 10 micrograms vaginal tablets

Sandrena estradiol sachet (0.5mg/1mg)

Indivina 1mg estradiol + 2.5mg medroxyprogesterone acetate

Indivina 1mg estradiol + 5mg medroxyprogesterone acetate

Tridestra 2mg estradiol + 20mg medroxyprogesterone acetate

Bijuve (estradiol/progesterone)

Evorel Conti (estradiol/norethisterone)

Evorel Sequi (estradiol/norethisterone)

Evorel 25 (estradiol)

Evorel 50 (estradiol)

Evorel 75 (estradiol)

Evorel 100 (estradiol) 

FemSeven Conti (estradiol/levonorgestrel)

FemSeven 50 (estradiol)

FemSeven 75 (estradiol)

Intrarosa® (Prasterone)

Zoely® (nomegestrol acetate/estradiol) 

Estraderm MX estradiol patches

Femoston estradiol

Zumenon estradiol

Elleste Solo estradiol

Elleste Duet estradiol 

The problem has arisen because prescriptions for one popular form of HRT gel, Oestrogel, have risen dramatically, with 500,000 now written each month, compared with 300,000 a year ago.

Besins, the firm that supplies it to the NHS, has admitted it is struggling to meet ‘extraordinary’ demand, but has pledged to increase production.

But ministers have blamed manufacturing problems and a lack of key ingredients, which they say have been made worse during the pandemic.

In the meantime, GPs have been forced to prescribe alternatives. 

But supplies of those gels are now also running short and women are reluctant to try alternative treatments, or even go back to taking HRT tablets, which are not as popular because they have a higher risk of blood clots and strokes.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, (PSNC) which represents more than 11,000 chemists across England, has warned that 67 per cent of its members are facing supply problems daily.

Its survey of more than 1,000 pharmacy staff found three-quarters faced ‘aggression from patients due to medicine supply issues’, The Telegraph reports.

Finn McCaul, a committee member of the PSNC, told the newspaper: ‘The situation is horrible. I have been a pharmacist for more than 30 years and I cannot remember a time that it has been so challenging.’

The Daily Mail spoke to pharmacists across the UK yesterday and they said the situation in the South East and London was ‘very acute’. 

A pharmacist in Middlesbrough said they had been experiencing shortages across all HRT medication for at least a year.

‘We have to give the prescription back and tell the patient to try a different chemist,’ he said. ‘They do get quite upset about it but there’s nothing we can do.’ 

Another pharmacist, in Norwich, said patients were upset. ‘They then have to go back to their GP to get a different prescription,’ she said.

‘Often this is for patches or tablets which a lot more women react negatively to compared with gels. People understandably get really frustrated. It’s not very nice for them.’ 

A spokesman for Boots chemists said: ‘We are in regular contact with suppliers and understand that they are increasing their production and expect issues to be resolved in the coming weeks.’ 

A businesswoman yesterday described the national shortage of HRT as a disgrace.

Millie Kendall, who runs the British Beauty Council, admitted she was so desperate she bought Oestrogel from the black market online.

She also bought a dose from a work colleague’s mother for £50. ‘I was panicking,’ Miss Kendall said.

‘I’m 55 years old, my legs get very swollen, I can’t sleep, and my anxiety has come flooding back. It’s a necessity – and a shortage is a disgrace.’ 

Dr Clare Spencer, a GP and menopause expert based in Leeds, said it was almost impossible to get hold of HRT gel and switching to a patch was not always as effective. 

‘Women are terrified of their symptoms coming back,’ said Katie Taylor of the Latte Lounge support group. 

‘Some women talk of feeling suicidal, they have extreme anxiety and depression, and are panicked by the thought of the black hole they were in before treatment returning. It is no coincidence the highest rate of suicide among women is in the 45 to 55 age group.

‘Women are losing jobs, marriages are breaking down – someone needs to get a grip of it urgently.’

Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday announced he would appoint a new HRT tsar to tackle the crisis. 

Ministers blame increased demand and Covid-related global supply problems for the shortages.

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org

HRT shortages could push menopausal women into taking their own lives, charity warns

HRT shortages could lead to menopausal women taking their own lives, experts warned last night.

Manufacturers have vowed to solve the issues by June, but campaigners say that may be too late for some.

Some have resorted to rationing their prescription, swapping treatments in car parks, turning to the black market, driving to far-flung pharmacies and even looking abroad.   

It is feared that without HRT some women will lose jobs, marriages or – in the worst cases – become depressed and even suicidal.

‘Women are terrified of their symptoms coming back,’ said Katie Taylor of the Latte Lounge support group. 

‘Some women talk of feeling suicidal, they have extreme anxiety and depression, and are panicked by the thought of the black hole they were in before treatment returning. It is no coincidence the highest rate of suicide among women is in the 45 to 55 age group.

‘Women are losing jobs, marriages are breaking down – someone needs to get a grip of it urgently.’



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