HRT shortage shows 'women getting raw deal' with Boris Johnson's government, MP says

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on the impact shortages are having

The UK's shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) shows women are "really, really getting a raw deal" from ministers and their health is "not a priority", a Labour MP has told ITV News.

MPs agreed in October last year that the cost of HRT should be severely reduced but as the number of prescriptions rises, women are being left desperate by worryingly low stock levels.

The health secretary has reacted by appointing a HRT tsar to address shortages of the medicine but Labour's Carolyn Harris told ITV News she is worried the move will kick the issue "into the long grass" rather than tackle it immediately.

Ms Harris, who co-chairs the UK menopause taskforce, said Sajid Javid could solve the problem himself without appointing a tsar.

"I welcome the tsar," she said, "I just hope it's not a reaction to the problem and it's going to be paying lip-service to what women really need, which is action to get the correct kinds of HRT on the chemist shelves".

The campaigner said demand for HRT had increased "phenomenally" in recent years but "the government has not planned well enough to make sure that they had enough products ready for manufacturers to meet the demand".

Labour MP Carolyn Harris says women's health is not a priority for the government:

Many women are reportedly sharing their HRT prescriptions, with others said to be struggling with their mental health as a result of the debilitating menopause symptoms they suffer without the medication.

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

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

Ms Harris said ministers had "let down" menopausal women, adding: "I really worry about the government's commitment to women's health, because it's obviously not a priority".

She cited a lack of progress on yearly prescriptions for HRT, which the government promised in October but cannot guarantee for many more months.

"It's not good enough. Women are really, really getting a raw deal with this government and we have to get better at treating women and women's health."

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.”

Sajid Javid said he intends to appoint a new HRT tsar amid shortages of medication Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

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.'”

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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.

Advice on how to combat HRT shortages and working while going through the menopause:

  • Don't go 'cold turkey' if it can be helped.

  • Asking your pharmacist what medications are available then speak to your doctor. Rather than have a doctor prescribe something that isn't available.

  • Request flexible working.

  • Requesting a different uniform if you are experiencing hot flushes.

  • Moving to a cooler part of the office or asking for a fan.

  • Using technology where it can help you, for example setting up reminders on your phone or taking more notes to help with 'brain fog'.

Menopause Cafés are spaces were people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss menopause.

Menopause Support provides private support via telephone and video consultations and bespoke menopause training and support solutions for businesses and organisations and menopause training days for therapists and well-being professionals.The Menopause Charity works to improve women’s and healthcare professionals’ understanding of the menopause. If you or someone you know needs help, their information pages have plenty of information and ways to get in touch.