UK 'not taking the menopause seriously', women's health experts say – iNews

The UK Government has been accused of “not taking the menopause seriously” as supply problems continue with no plan to replace its HRT tsar.
Madelaine McTernan has returned to her role working full time as the director general of the Vaccine Taskforce overseeing the autumn Covid booster campaign. She presented several key recommendations to help ensure continued supply of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products to meet rising demand, but charities and women’s health experts have said problems persist.
Ms McTernan called for improved access to data on prescriptions so it is easier to see where there are shortfalls between HRT packs prescribed and HRT packs supplied by manufacturers. She also said that taking lessons from the HRT supply chain work “will inform broader medicine supply work”.
The Government created the role of a HRT tsar to address issues in the supply chain. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists had warned that the ongoing shortages were “incredibly distressing” for those affected.
Ministers have taken action to reduce costs of HRT. The creation of a prepayment certificate will mean women can access HRT on a month-by-month basis if needed, easing pressure on supply, paying a one-off charge equivalent to 2 single prescription charges, currently £18.70, for all their HRT prescriptions for a year. This system will be implemented by April 2023.
Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) reported improved Oestrogel supply, according to the most recent update from the HRT taskforce, although some HRT products are still in short supply.
Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea who has been campaigning on HRT shortages for at least a year and whose Private Members’ Bill last year led to the formation of the Menopause Task Force, described the barriers to HRT access as “unacceptable”.
She met DHSC officials earlier this month to discuss improving women’s access to HRT products. The DHSC said action would be taken to make supplies of HRT more resilient.
Dr Clare Spencer, one of the UK’s leading menopause experts and co-founder of specialist online health service My Menopause Centre, said supply issues were still “a massive problem”, with stocks of some products remaining low. Many women are still suffering sleepless nights because of lack of HRT or turning to the black market to get supplies, she said.
A recent poll by menopause support group The Latte Lounge found 36 per cent of women were still struggling to get hold of the treatments that work for them.
Dr Spencer said: “The reality is that many women around the country are still facing challenges in receiving their HRT prescriptions. It’s important to reassure women that they are not going to face the same supply issues that they’ve experienced over the past few months.
“With this, together with them reneging on repeated promises about reducing prescription charges for HRT and making menopause a protected characteristic, it seems like the government is not taking the millions of women experiencing menopause symptoms in the UK right now seriously, despite its repeated claims that women’s health is a priority.”
Health officials admit that while the supply of HRT is improving, there is still “some way to go”. They said the Government would continue to build on the improvements in the HRT supply and ensure that Ms McTernan’s and the HRT Supply Taskforce’s recommendations are implemented in full.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We have put women’s health at the top of the agenda by publishing a Women’s Health Strategy for England, appointing the first-ever Women’s Health Ambassador, and taking action to increase supply and reduce the cost of Hormone Replacement Therapy. We have accepted the recommendations of the HRT taskforce, including the continued use of Serious Shortage Protocols when appropriate to manage shortages.”
In April, pharmacy regulators instructed chemists to restrict sales of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) gels containing the female sex hormone oestrogen. The move allowed pharmacists to offer alternatives where available without the need to contact the patient’s GP, but limited them to dispensing no more than three months’ supply, leaving many women unable to get hold of a sustainable supply.
HRT patches, such as Evorel 50, Evorel Sequi and Estradot, were out of stock. Others, such as Sandrena gel, which had been on a shortage list for the previous three months, began coming in more regularly to pharmacists but was still often unavailable. A fifth product said to be suffering “inconsistent supply” is Utrogestan, which contains the hormone progesterone.
Later that month, then Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced Madelaine McTernan, the head of the Covid Vaccine Taskforce, would lead a new unit created to help tackle the shortage in HRT products. It was hoped the lessons from supplying millions of coronavirus vaccines rapidly throughout the UK could be applied to HRT supply shortages.
Demand for HRT products has grown in recent years due to increased menopause awareness and GP confidence in prescribing treatments. HRT can help alleviate severe symptoms of menopause including hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
Officials said the increase in demand was one of the factors causing shortages among a small number of products, including Oestrogel – an ointment containing oestrogen that is rubbed into the skin.
In June, Professor Dame Lesley Regan, consultant at St Mary’s Hospital, was appointed as the Government’s first ever Women’s Health Ambassador for England. Through the ambassador role, Professor Regan will support the implementation of the Government’s upcoming Women’s Health Strategy, which aims to tackle the gender health gap and ensure services meet the needs of women throughout their life.
The HRT taskforce was disbanded this month following an “improvement” in supply of the drugs used to alleviate menopause symptoms, the DHSC said.
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