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More HRT swaps allowed as minister says supply issues will ease in June

A woman applies an oestrogen patch for hormone replacement therapy (Alamy/PA)
A woman applies an oestrogen patch for hormone replacement therapy (Alamy/PA)

Supplies of HRT products will be “in a better position” by next month, a minister has said as new measures to tackle widespread shortages were announced.

Women’s health minister Maria Caulfield said the Government was working closely with manufacturers to address the ongoing issues, which have seen thousands of menopausal women struggling to get their hands on key medication.

Pharmacists have now been given greater freedoms to offer women alternative hormone replacement therapy products to relieve their symptoms if their normal HRT is out of stock.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Caulfield said: “Manufacturers say to us that, by June, they should be in a better position in terms of supply.

“The number one reason why we’re kind of in this position is we’re almost a victim of our own success, is the sheer demand for HRT products.

“We’ve seen a 38% increase, which is absolutely welcomed, and that’s because women feel confident to ask for HRT now when they’re at the GPs and GPs feel more confident in prescribing it, so we want that to continue.”

On Saturday, the Government announced that its HRT Supply Taskforce had agreed to implement further Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) to temporarily allow pharmacists greater freedoms to choose alternative HRT products.

SSPs had already been introduced in April to limit the dispensing of Oestrogel, Ovestin and Premique Low Dose to three months’ supply.

The two new further SSPs are for Lenzetto transdermal spray and Sandrena gel, which will also be put on a three-month supply.

Under the rules, all of these items can generally be substituted for transdermal patches.

The Government said that while Premique now has good availability, manufacturers are still working to increase supply of Oestrogel and Ovestin.

Professor Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said of the latest announcement: “We welcome the news that more SSPs have been put in place for hormone replacement therapy products.

“This short-term measure will help women access supplies of HRT medicines which are difficult to get hold of.

“This is a very fluid situation, with some products due to return to normal availability shortly.

“However, the bureaucracy involved in completing the SSP process for each individual patient is quite burdensome for pharmacists and we hope to see the shortage of HRT products resolved as soon as possible under the leadership of the new HRT tsar.

“Ultimately we’d like to see a change in the law which makes the whole process easier and quicker for both pharmacists and patients.

“The advice on which HRT product to substitute with another has been drawn up by experts and women can be confident they will receive what’s appropriate for them.

“Women should talk to their pharmacist if they have any concerns about their HRT medicines.”

Head of the HRT Supply Taskforce, Madelaine McTernan, said: “I am very encouraged by the constructive engagement across the sector and enthusiasm with which suppliers and pharmacists are looking to work with us to meet this challenge.

“Focusing both on measures that ensure we can use stocks most efficiently whilst also ensuring supply is increased is critical.”