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UK Health Secretary should tackle hormone replacement therapy shortage, says Welsh MP

25 Apr 2022 4 minutes Read
Picture by Richard Townshend (CC BY 3.0).

Carolyn Harris, co-chairwoman of the UK menopause taskforce and MP for Swansea East, 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. My concern is (to ensure) that it’s not being kicked into the long grass, but I won’t let that happen.”

Desperate

Sajid Javid announced on Sunday that he intends to appoint an HRT tsar amid a shortage of medication which has left women desperate.

The news comes as many women are reportedly sharing their prescriptions, with some said to be made suicidal by the debilitating menopause symptoms they suffer without the medication.

Recent figures suggest the number of HRT prescriptions in the UK has more doubled in the last five years but stocks are running low, with one manufacturer of a commonly-used hormone replacement gel reporting supply problems.

Ms Harris said the shortage of the gel has led to a rush on other HRT products, and she called for a loosening of regulations to allow equitable access.

She said one product, a pill, is only available to women in certain parts of the country, leading to it being “stacked high in warehouses” while those stocking the gel “are empty”.

She said “bad planning” was behind the shortages.

“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.”

Mr Javid told The Mail on Sunday he was “determined” to make sure supplies were meeting the high demand and would use lessons learned during the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

“I will be urgently convening a meeting with suppliers to look at ways we can work together to improve supply in the short and long term,” he said.

“It’s also clear to me that we need to apply some of the lessons from the vaccine taskforce to this challenge, so we will soon be recruiting for an HRT supply chairperson.”

Symptoms

Hormone therapy helps to combat menopausal symptoms, which include anxiety, joint pain, disturbed sleep and hot flushes.

Jo McEwan, from menopause training company PositivePause, which provides support to women and organisations, welcomed the announcement.

She said: “What’s happened is the supply can’t keep up with the demand now, clearly.

“But this isn’t the first time it’s happened so I think, yes, let’s make somebody accountable or get someone who’s got that authority to say: ‘Right, let’s get the big picture on this, let’s talk to the stakeholders, let’s talk to the pharma companies, and let’s ensure that women are not, as you say, trading HRT in car parks and buying it from abroad.’”

Dr Louise Newson, who runs the not-for-profit Newson Health Research And Education, described the move as “wonderful news”.

She said: “There’s no doubt about it – we are at crisis point with regards to the supply of HRT.

“There are thousands of women in this country that are reliant on this to live their everyday lives.

“I see so many women come into my clinic who have struggled on a day-to-day basis with menopause symptoms, who are then able to take back control with the help of HRT.

“It is growing increasingly clear to me that the way the medical community views menopause needs to change; this is not a lifestyle issue – it is a health issue, which carries real risks if not treated properly. This move is a step in the right direction.”

The shortages come after months of campaigning for greater awareness and increased support for those going through the menopause.

Among the voices were TV presenter and model Penny Lancaster, who is married to Sir Rod Stewart, as well as Davina McCall, who both joined MPs outside parliament to protest against prescription charges for HRT in October 2021.


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