Doctors warn of a surge in demand for HRT medication as women panic

Doctors warn of a surge in demand for HRT medication as women panic buy drugs amid chronic shortage that will last until 2020

  • GPS said ‘more and more patients are panicking’ because of a HRT shortage 
  • On Saturday the Daily Mail revealed scale of the problem affecting pharmacies 
  • Doctors say shortage adding to workload as they find alternative treatments

Doctors warned last night of a surge in demand from women amid an HRT crisis.

GPs said ‘more and more patients are panicking’ because half of HRT drug brands are currently out of stock.

The shortage is hitting almost all of the 200,000 British women on HRT and is set to continue into next year.

On Saturday the Daily Mail revealed the scale of the problem, which is affecting all high street pharmacies including Boots and Lloyds.

GPs said ‘more and more patients are panicking’ because half of HRT drug brands are currently out of stock (file image)

Frustrated doctors said the shortage was adding to their workload as they were forced to spend hours finding alternative treatments.

HRT drugs, administered as patches, pills or gels, provide the oestrogen that the body stops producing during the menopause.

Supply chain problems have forced manufacturers to stop producing certain brands of HRT, which has had a ‘domino effect’, causing shortages of alternatives.

Thousands of women have had to switch brands in recent weeks, sometimes causing crippling symptoms including night sweats and depression to ‘return with a vengeance’.

Leeds GP Dr Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association, said he was expecting an increase in calls from women this week.

‘That’s always the case whenever there’s a shortage of any product – people can get increasingly anxious,’ he said. ‘That’s particularly the case for products like HRT which we prescribe for three or six months at a time… it’s understandable if they get anxious if their product isn’t available.’

Thousands of women have had to switch brands in recent weeks, sometimes causing crippling symptoms including night sweats and depression to ‘return with a vengeance’ (file image)

He said there had been a shortage of HRT over the past year, although it had become a ‘particular problem’ in the last few weeks.

‘We’ve been left playing pharmacy ping-pong,’ he said.

‘We’re issuing prescriptions, the pharmacies haven’t got them, we issue a different one, the pharmacies haven’t got that.

‘We often have to speak to the pharmacies to find out what they have actually got so we can find something as close as possible to the prescription the woman needs.

Anger of women left without HRT drugs 

Women told yesterday how they are ‘hunting round for miles’ to try and pick up their HRT prescriptions.

Bev Fitzsimmons from London said: ‘My usual prescription is unavailable. Symptoms return with a vengeance plus sleep disruption equals a very grumpy old woman.’

Candice Watson from Hastings in East Sussex said: ‘I’ve now been given tablets that I was originally told I shouldn’t take as I’m a smoker and they are making my tummy really upset. What is the point in prescribing something that is impossible to get hold of? I wish I hadn’t bothered starting the HRT now.’

Janet Thursfield from Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, said: ‘I first had a problem with a repeat prescription just before Christmas and was given an alternative to try. The menopause has been a nightmare and the shortage just adds to the stress.’

Vicki Penn from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, said: ‘I used to have FemSeven patches but haven’t been able to get it for over six months. On tablets now but still trying to find one that suits me.’

Paula Menso from East Sussex said: ‘Why is there a national shortage of all forms of HRT affecting thousands of women’s wellbeing? And what is being done about it? Fed up with having to phone around to source prescription and then change meds only to find I can’t get those either.’

Patricia Stiemke from Essex was forced to visit several pharmacies to find just one month’s stock of Elleste Duo pills. ‘Having a disruption in my supply would certainly have negative consequences,’ she said. ‘In my case, it definitely affects my ability to enjoy being alive – and also having some sort of libido.’

Pharmacists have also revealed that women are desperately ringing around chemists to try and find one which stocks their HRT prescription. Christine Plummer, from Dartford, Kent, said: ‘I work in a pharmacy and we have had quite a few ladies desperately ringing round to locate stocks of their HRT.’

Another pharmacy worker wrote on social media: ‘Unfortunately this has been going on since December.

‘I was working in a pharmacy and our suppliers were having trouble getting most HRT stuff and we had a limited supply to prescribe.’ 

‘It takes a lot of time for GPs and it’s very frustrating for patients who find themselves taking a prescription around different pharmacies.’

Dr Hannah Short, a GP who specialises in the menopause, added: ‘More and more of my patients are panicking.’ Last night the Royal College of GPs advised women on HRT to ‘start thinking early’ about renewing their prescription.

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the college, said the shortage was ‘depressing and demoralising for everybody’.

‘For some products, it’s just a temporary blip while they’re desperately manufacturing more,’ she said. ‘That’s because there has been a domino effect – demand has peaked for their products while others are long-term unavailable. For the longer term products, including the patches, it’s going to be into early 2020 before the supply issues are sorted.’

She added that GPs and pharmacists were being kept in the dark by suppliers about the shortage because the information was ‘commercially sensitive’.

The GP, who works in Lichfield, Staffordshire, added: ‘I was on call in surgery on Friday and this was a genuine and hugely frustrating problem – not just in terms of adding to GP workload, as looking for suitable alternatives is very time-consuming, but it can be distressing for patients.’ More than a dozen commonly prescribed HRT drugs are out of stock or in short supply.

These include most Elleste tablets, FemSeven Sequi and Conti patches, Evorel 50 patches and Estradot patches.

Lloyds’ supplier AAH Pharmaceuticals has run out of 15 of the 24 HRT brands it stocks.

Pharmaceutical retailer Alliance, which is owned by the same group as Boots, has run out of nine of 27 HRT products while a further five are low in stock.

A number of factors are behind the shortage including difficulties getting hold of ingredients in the glue that keeps HRT patches stuck to the skin. When a drug is unavailable, pharmacists try to match the patient with a similar brand that will continue to provide the necessary balance of hormones. But alternatives are not available for some of the out-of-stock drugs, including combined patches such as FemSeven Conti.

This means women are put on different forms of HRT that may not suit them, sometimes causing the return of devastating symptoms.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We are working closely with all suppliers to maintain overall flow of medicines to patients.

‘Supplies of alternative HRT products are available and any patient affected should discuss alternatives with their doctor.’  

BBC’s Louise: I have to keep the studio cool

Louise Minchin says the temperature in the BBC Breakfast studio has been lowered to help with her hot flushes.

The presenter said: ‘The studio is really cold now. We have the “Louise” setting on the air conditioning.’

The 50-year-old, who recently completed a triathlon, said she feels better than ever. ‘I might have wrinkles, but I’ve got muscles,’ the mother of two said.

Louise Minchin says the temperature in the BBC Breakfast studio has been lowered to help with her hot flushes

The star joined a group of presenters, entrepreneurs and sportswomen who discussed their experience of the menopause and mid-life in Hello! magazine. They included Kay Burley, Trisha Goddard and ex-Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies.

Sky News broadcaster Miss Burley, 58, said: ‘I didn’t used to talk about it but the young boys in the office would get embarrassed and think, “Why is she so hot and bothered?” Now I tell them: “Just having a power surge – it’ll be gone in a minute”.’

She added: ‘There is no better time in history for women of our age now.’ 

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