The Government is taking urgent action to limit the amount of certain hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products women can access to improve the general supply across the UK.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has issued Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) to limit the dispensing of Oestrogel, Ovestin cream and Premique Low Dose to three months’ supply per person to “even out” the distribution.
The move comes in response to concerns regarding longer prescribing cycles putting pressure on availability of some HRT products.
But women who have a prescription for more than three months’ supply will not have to pay additional charges for treatment they cannot access, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
Mr Javid said: “I want to reassure women I have listened to their concerns and will not hesitate to take decisive action to ensure they can access the HRT they need.
“We will leave no stone unturned in our national mission to boost supply of HRT – and this next step will ensure women across the UK will be able to reliably access this vital medication and maintain this lifeline for millions who need it.”
HRT can help alleviate severe menopause symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
The SSPs will expire on July 29 and the DHSC said pharmacists were expected to “use their professional judgment” on deciding how to apply them.
Prescriptions for HRT have more than doubled in England over the past five years, according to NHS data.
Figures from OpenPrescribing suggest nearly 538,000 prescriptions for HRT treatment were issued in December, compared with 238,000 in January 2017.
With demand outstripping supply, the firm behind popular HRT treatment Oestrogel recently said it is on track to meet growing demand.
Besins Healthcare UK, which makes the gel, said it is planning an increase in supplies – so women can get longer-term prescriptions and more people can start hormone replacement therapy – from June.
On Thursday evening, the Health Secretary announced he had appointed Madelaine McTernan, director general of the Covid Vaccine Taskforce, to lead a new HRT taskforce, which the Government said “will apply lessons it has learned from rolling out the coronavirus vaccine”.
Ms McTernan said: “This is a step in the right direction of tackling the supply issues women are facing when it comes to accessing HRT and ensuring ongoing, reliable supply.”