The 'huge issue' of HRT shortages - and what is being done
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Tens of thousands of women have been left frustrated following supply issues with vital medication to help with menopause symptoms.
The problem with prescribed Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) demand has hit headlines again after first coming to light in 2018.
So, what is being done to eradicate the supply issues for women suffering in silence?
From patients facing months of waiting for out-of-stock prescriptions, to others turning to alternatives, there has been little indication as to when the uncertainty might end.
An advanced nurse practitioner working in the Broadland area, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Everyone is having supply problems. It is very frustrating for patients who rely heavily on their HRT to work and play.
“Essentially, with women going through menopause earlier and working for longer, this is no doubt going to cause knock-on effects.
“There are also increases in demand for urgent GP appointments and these are already at breaking point. It is also difficult for women as, with most surgeries, HRT is considered as a non-urgent request so this adds to the frustration.”
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Sarah Piercy, of Taverham, echoed those frustrations on behalf of those experiencing problems getting their usual HRT.
Although her prescribed brand is not experiencing shortages, she said she would be “really upset” if she could no longer get hers.
The 50-year-old mum, who has been on HRT for around two years, said: “In fact, it was because of the ongoing shortages my doctor prescribed the HRT he did.
“I was lucky. I did my homework, managed to get a doctor's appointment, and was prescribed my HRT quickly, but I know that is often not the case.
“HRT has helped me enormously – both with anxiety and hot and night flushes. The problem with menopause is that there are so many symptoms and women suffer from them to various degrees. So many don’t realise either.
“If I could not get my HRT, I would be furious.
“This is a huge issue as it affects so many and excuses for the supply issues need to stop.”
What is being done to eradicate the supply issues?
Looking at the numbers and statistics surrounding menopause and HRT makes for sombre reading.
Menopause usually, but not necessarily, occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the NHS reports that the average age is 51 but around one in 100 women experience menopause before 40 years of age. In a few exceptional cases, women may become menopausal in their 30s, or even younger.
On average, most symptoms last around four years from when a woman's periods end, however, around one in every 10 women experience them for up to 12 years. Some trans and non-binary individuals may also go through menopause due to changes in hormones and often with little support available.
HRT replaces oestrogen that the body stops producing during menopause and more than 2.5 million prescriptions are issued for HRT every year, in tablet, patch, and gel form. One million women in the UK use treatment to help, with HRT the main NHS treatment.
What are the ramifications of supply issues?
Symptoms of menopause range from cognitive, physical and psychological, and if left untreated the symptoms can be horrific and the results devastating; for relationship issues to struggles in the workplace.
Almost all women on HRT are likely to be affected by the shortage in some way and while women are having to take what HRT brands they can get, some may be making original symptoms worse.
There are various reasons why supplies are said to have dried up; from manufacturing problems, ingredient shortages, Brexit, the pandemic and discontinued brands.
But now a national shortage could threaten the availability of alternative brands, so the situation may only get worse.
The British Menopause Society issued an update on HRT supply and current availability on April 12.
A statement said: “The ongoing challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in many women experiencing difficulties in obtaining their HRT supplies.
“We appreciate that continuing HRT intake is likely to help many women control their often-difficult menopausal symptoms, particularly relevant given the additional stress some women may be under in view of the strains of the current situation on society.
“In addition, general practitioners’ surgeries have been under ongoing additional pressure as a result of the pandemic.”
It went on to suggest that healthcare professionals and prescribers follow recommendations to consider advising women about menopause issues through telephone and virtual consultations where possible, to reduce face-to-face engagement if they have access to repeat prescriptions of HRT supplies and have not been experiencing any problems.
More than 50pc of the UK population are women, yet female issues often fly under the radar as "difficult" or "embarrassing" to talk about. The EDP continues to shine a spotlight on menopause, an issue that will affect every single one of our female readers – and the men in their lives. With symptoms ranging from hot sweats to crippling depression, anxiety, brain fog and weight gain, it’s one of the single most important changes to a woman’s wellbeing in mid and later life. Please read, share and talk.
Where to go for support
- Wellbeing International offers workplace training and support. Visit its website for more information: www.wellbeinginternational.co.uk/menopause-wellbeing
- Meg Matthews, formerly from Norwich launched the website Meg's Menopause (www.megsmenopause.com) and has written a book The New Hot: Taking on the Menopause.
- Eventbrite is publicising a menopause wellness afternoon tea and talk workshop at Banham Broom next month. Tickets via https://bit.ly/3OrG2vB
- For women living in the east region of the county, there is more support and information provided via www.menopausewellnesseast.co.uk
- Another website includes menopausesupport.co.uk