Women given access to HRT substitutes as ministers cut red tape

·4-min read
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said: 'We are working to ensure HRT is available for everyone who needs it and I am pleased to see suppliers continuing to increase the supply of some products which is a testament to the collaborative approach being taken' - Getty Images/Getty Images
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said: 'We are working to ensure HRT is available for everyone who needs it and I am pleased to see suppliers continuing to increase the supply of some products which is a testament to the collaborative approach being taken' - Getty Images/Getty Images

Red tape will be cut so women can be offered substitute HRT products for those hit by shortages, as part of efforts to tackle a mounting crisis.

Ministers have issued new protocols which mean that pharmacists can provide alternatives for four types of hormone treatment that are in short supply, without patients having to seek a new prescription.

The actions follow meetings between manufacturers and a new HRT taskforce which is attempting to deal with record demand, in an area hit by manufacturing and supply problems.

It follows the introduction of rationing measures, limiting prescriptions to three months for key products.

The new measures will extend rationing further, placing the same three month limit on substitute treatments, in order to prevent a knock-on effect.

Previously, women had been able to get prescriptions for up to 12 months.

The serious shortage protocols (SSPs) are being deployed to tackle short-term supply issues, while meetings continue about how to meet rising demand for hormone treatments.

Campaigners for HRT have repeatedly urged ministers to tackle the bureaucracy which is restricting access to supplies, and forcing women to trudge from pharmacies back to their GPs, in an effort to secure treatment.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said: “We are working to ensure HRT is available for everyone who needs it and I am pleased to see suppliers continuing to increase the supply of some products which is a testament to the collaborative approach being taken.

“Meetings with suppliers are ongoing and we’re taking decisive action to manage HRT supply issues and reduce any delays - this includes issuing further SSPs so that women are able to access the medication they need.”

'Working round the clock'

Ministers said they were “working round the clock” to stabilise supply of HRT.

Health officials insisted the latest measures were working, saying that one product - Premique Low Dose - which was hit by shortages now has good availability, with manufacturers taking action to boost supplies of Oestrogel and Ovestin.

However, it follows warnings from some manufacturers that they are unlikely to be able to meet demand until June.

More than 500,000 prescriptions a month are being issued for HRT, up from 300,000 a year ago, in a sector which has been hit by manufacturing and supply problems.

As a result, a growing black market has emerged, with women resorting to “bartering and swapping bottles” or paying £50 for a single pack.

Last month Besins, the manufacturer of the rub-on treatment Oestrogel, said they aimed to meet demand by June, saying they had already doubled supplies over the last year.

The latest measures mean women who are prescribed four products - Oestrogel, Ovestin cream, Lenzetto transdermal spray or Sandrena gel sachets - can instead be given estradiol patches or estriol creams, if their prescribed treatment is not available.

The substitute products will have prescriptions limited to three months, the same measure that was introduced last month for Oestrogel, Ovestin and Premique Low Dose.

GPs are also being urged to check which products are available before they issue prescriptions.

And doctors are being reminded that they can choose from a wide range of products - and should not be constrained by recommendations made by local committees.

Supplies 'ramped up'

Madelaine McTernan, Head of the HRT Supply Taskforce, said she was encouraged by the  “constructive engagement” across the sector, saying action was being taken to ensure efficient use of stocks while supplies are ramped up.

Maria Caulfield, Minister for Women’s Health, said: “Women’s health is a priority for this government - we’re working around the clock to ensure supply of HRT is stable now, and in the long-term.”

Professor Claire Anderson, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “We welcome the news that more SSPs have been put in place for hormone replacement therapy products.

“This short term measure will help women access supplies of HRT medicines which are difficult to get hold of.

“This is a very fluid situation with some products due to return to normal availability shortly.”

But she said the protocols to deal with shortages involved too much red tape.

Prof Anderson said: “The bureaucracy involved in completing the SSP process for each individual patient is quite burdensome for pharmacists and we hope to see the shortage of HRT products resolved as soon as possible.”

“Ultimately we’d like to see a change in the law which makes the whole process easier and quicker for both pharmacists and patients,” she added.

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