Menopausal women are having to take days off work in HRT 'gold rush'

Menopausal women are having to take days off work in HRT ‘gold rush’ as GPs start RATIONING dwindling supplies amid shortages

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy stocks are dwindling in pharmacies across UK
  • Shortages have forced women to spend hours hunting at different sites for it 
  • Oestrogel, used by around 30,000 women in the UK, is the most sought after

Women are being forced to take days off work because of a crippling shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on the NHS.

Surging demand and supply issues have left many struggling to access the drugs that soothe the debilitating symptoms of the menopause. 

More than a million women rely on the medication and campaigners fear many will be forced out the workplace — either trying to hunt for the drugs or because they are too unwell to work. 

Menopause can cause brain fog — making concentrating on tasks difficult — as well as crippling hot flushes, fatigue and anxiety.

There are growing reports of desperate women resorting to swapping drugs in car parks, buying on the black market and going abroad to source the medicine. 

Women like Julie Macken, a 52-year-old businesswomen, have had to spend  mornings off work in search of HRT after missing out on the medication for days.

Britain’s top GP has warned women against mixing and matching prescriptions, saying it could cause ‘serious side effects’.

Some GPs have started issuing women with only one month’s worth of the drugs to ration the medication.

It comes after campaigners warned of a HRT ‘gold rush’ as women race to pharmacies to get their hands on dwindling stock. 

File photo of a woman taking HRT.  Shortages have been so severe that some women have been forced to spend hours visiting different pharmacies in search of it

A woman has described her dependence on HRT amid a supply shortage of a certain type of the drug, saying that running out would be ‘catastrophic’ for her physical and mental wellbeing.

Shortages of the medicine, which is used to treat the symptoms of menopause, have been so severe some women have been forced to travel hundreds of miles in search of it.

Around a million women in the UK rely on HRT.

Sarah Smith, 53, from London, said: ‘It will be catastrophic for me if my supply runs out and I stop abruptly. It will cause a mental and physical impact that will likely see me have to give up work.’

Describing her experience of menopause before she used HRT, Ms Smith said she experienced approximately 30 hot flushes each day and ‘intense brain fog’.

‘I forgot how to do my job. Menopause ruined my life.

‘I had completely lost sense of my identity, and all joy in life. I just existed and was, like a lot of women, considering giving up work as I could not cope with it.

‘It’s taken me about seven years to get what’s called the gold standard of HRT. This current gold standard treatment allows me to make the journey back to who I used to be.’

Sarah Smith, 53, from London, said ‘intense brain fog’ from menopause prevented her from doing her job before she started taking the treatment. 

Losing HRT abruptly would force her to ‘give up work’, she said.

The main issue is with Oestrogel, which is used by around 30,000 women in the UK. 

Alternatives have also taken a hit as women are switched to different medication until stocks are replenished.

Elizabeth Carr-Ellis, founder of the Pausitivity campaign, told The Times: ‘For the past three years on and off women have struggled to get hold of HRT.

‘At the moment the main problem is Oestrogel. But that is having knock-on effects on other brands.

‘Women are having to spend hours trekking back and forth between their GPs and pharmacists to get hold of it.’ 

Ms Macken’s symptoms, including hot flushes, returned and she went to seven pharmacies in Oxfordshire before she finally found the drugs.

And teacher Clare Woodward, 47, from Kidderminister, Worcestershire, said she was signed off work because alternatives to the gel were not helping her symptoms.

She is using the medication to recover from a hysterectomy in 2019 that has limited her oestrogen levels.

Initially she tried self-rationing the gel but found her symptoms — including fatigue and anxiety — were returning, so she was given patches as a substitute.

But she says the new drugs do not stick and she does not ‘feel great on them at all’. 

Others have faced issues getting any drugs at all, with GPs restricting their prescriptions and some reportedly ‘refusing’ to offer a 12-month script.

A clinical pharmacist in Truro, Cornwall, told a patient all HRT products were suffering from supply issues.

In a letter seen by The Daily Telegraph the pharmacist said: ‘It is a case of ringing around pharmacies to see who has stock. 

‘If your pharmacy has no stock when you next need it, please contact us again and we will issue a new script.

‘However, at the moment we can only issue one month at a time, to try and take pressure off the existing stock and allow everyone who needs it a smaller supply.’

(left to right) Dr Louise Newson, Mariella Frostrup, MP Carolyn Harris, Penny Lancaster and Davina McCall with protesters outside the Houses of Parliament in London demonstrating against ongoing prescription charges for HRT

Oestrogel, which is used by around 30,000 women in the UK, has been in short supply lately, leading to a HRT ‘gold rush’ as women race to pharmacies to get their hands on dwindling stock

Davina backs campaign

Davina McCall is backing a campaign to bring forward the date for cheaper HRT medicine for women

Davina McCall is backing a campaign to bring forward the date for cheaper HRT medicine for women.

Last year Labour MP Carolyn Harris, co-chairman of the UK menopause taskforce, managed to get costs cut in England, saving women up to £200 a year. But this will not come into effect until April 2023.

Now, a petition by campaign group Menopause Mandate is calling for the Government to implement it sooner. Miss McCall, one of the group’s founders, said that it is ‘insane’ women are ‘scrabbling about on the internet’ and easing HRT costs is needed urgently.

Meanwhile, Facebook menopause support groups are being flooded with women tipping each other off, with ‘Quick, try here’ messages being shared.

Others have likened it to the home front in the Second World War, when families would tip each other off when rations were restocked.

‘It’s just a terrible situation to be in, almost like a gold rush,’ said Katie Taylor, of menopause support group Latte Lounge.

‘Women in our FB group are panic buying, tipping each other off when they hear of any pharmacies who have stock of Oestrogel in place. 

‘Some are saying they feel like they’ve won the lottery, others are offering to share their supplies.’ 

Jane Pangbourne of the HRT Truth Collective support group, said there is an ‘HRT frenzy’.

She said women were travelling across the country after ringing pharmacy after pharmacy or getting tipped off by friends about where stock is available.

She added: ‘There was somebody in the group the other day who had travelled four or five hours to get her gel.

‘And even when women manage to get, let’s say, a month’s supply of whatever it is they need, they’re then already starting to plan: “What the hell do I do for next month?”

‘So the stress doesn’t end the moment they get their prescription — if they get their prescription at all.’

Elizabeth Carr-Ellis, a menopause campaigner and blogger, said desperate women are relying on one another for support and advice.

‘Women in Facebook groups have turned into mini support centres, telling each other where they’ve got Oestrogel from and if they had any left,’ she said.

‘It reminds me of my mum talking about the war – when women would pass on where the latest ration supplies had come in.’

The Daily Mail this week revealed a postcode lottery in England for alternative treatments, following extensive coverage of supply chain issues going back years.

A spokesman for Well Pharmacy, which has nearly 800 branches, said: ‘Some of our pharmacy teams have seen an increased number of requests from new patients looking for specific HRT products.’

The UK’s most senior GP has warned the HRT supply crisis must be resolved quickly because ‘so many women’ are experiencing distress and some are risking side-effects by using medication prescribed to others.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told the Guardian: ‘While we appreciate the seriousness of the current situation and the frustrations women are experiencing, we urge them not to share HRT medication as this could lead to serious side-effects.’

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