Javid to appoint an HRT tsar to fight shortage of menopause medicine

Javid to appoint an HRT tsar to fight shortage of menopause medicine

04/24/2022

Sajid Javid to appoint an HRT tsar to fight shortage of medicine that helps ease menopause symptoms – and says role will emulate that of Covid vaccine chief Kate Bingham

  • The Health Secretary will attempt to tackle the menopause treatment shortage
  • Hormone replacement therapy helps ease symptoms of menopause
  • Javid said he will model the rollout on the UK’s world-beating Covid vaccine 

Sajid Javid is to appoint an HRT tsar with orders to solve a shortage of hormone replacement medicine that has left thousands of menopausal women desperate for help.

It comes as the Government is accused of showing a ‘total disregard’ for sufferers’ health.

The Health Secretary said he was determined to improve the situation, which has seen women run out of HRT with no idea of when supplies will resume.

The Health Secretary said he was determined to improve the situation, which has seen women run out of HRT with no idea of when supplies will resume

Last night he pledged to model the role on that of Kate Bingham, who chaired the UK’s highly successful Covid vaccine taskforce.

Hormone replacement therapy helps to alleviate the debilitating symptoms of the menopause, including disturbed sleep, hot flushes, anxiety and joint pain.

If treatment is stopped suddenly the health problems return, affecting women’s wellbeing, relationships and jobs. But there has been an acute shortage for weeks, said to be due to global supply issues and high demand.

Mr Javid’s move follows deepening concern from MPs and campaigners that women are being left to suffer because Ministers are failing to take the issue seriously enough. It comes as:

  • Local NHS authorities are accused of worsening the situation by only offering a few HRT treatments;
  • Women are being forced to ask friends on holiday abroad to act as ‘HRT mules’ to fly back with supplies;
  • They are rationing their HRT, with Tory MP Caroline Nokes – who is affected – calling the situation ‘chaos’;
  • A Minister admitted it will be June before supplies of certain HRT brands are back to normal;
  • Trans women – those born male – are getting HRT to help feminise their bodies, although experts believe not enough of them receive it to impact overall supply;

Mr Javid told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I know just how much women rely on HRT and that some have been struggling to get certain medicines. I’m determined to do all I can to make sure that supplies are meeting hugely rising demand and there is equitable access.

‘Davina effect’ smashed the menopause taboo

HRT is in short supply thanks to increased demand in the past year driven by celebrity campaigns, political action and greater media coverage of the menopause, pharma firms say.

‘It’s the Davina effect,’ said Tina Backhouse of Theramex, which supplies the HRT treatment Bijuva. TV star Davina McCall, 54, right, is credited with helping to smash the taboo surrounding ‘the change’ in her 2021 documentary Sex, Myths And The Menopause.

Some firms admit they are having ‘temporary’ supply chain issues.

Health Minister Maria Caulfield said HRT supply was a priority for her, adding: ‘I met the manufacturers last week. They are restricted as some of the ingredients come from countries affected by Covid, and the global container issues.’

There is also a knock-on effect. When women have trouble accessing one brand of HRT affected by supply problems, such as Oestrogel, they are forced to try alternatives such as the spray Lenzetto. This creates shortages of the alternatives.

Sajid Javid’s HRT tsar will have to convince global firms to send more HRT supplies here – which might raise prices for the NHS.

‘It’s the Davina effect,’ said Tina Backhouse of Theramex, which supplies the HRT treatment Bijuva

‘I will be urgently convening a meeting with suppliers to look at ways we can work together to improve supply in the short and long term.

‘It’s also clear to me that we need to apply some of the lessons from the Vaccine Taskforce to this challenge, so we will soon be recruiting for an HRT supply chairperson.’

Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairwoman of the Government’s Menopause Taskforce, said Ministers had a ‘total disregard’ for women’s health by failing on a pledge to cut HRT prescription fees.

In October it was announced that women in England would only have pay a single annual prescription fee for HRT, rather than every month, saving up to £205 a year. But this will only come into effect next April – not this month as Ms Harris said she was led to believe.

Industry sources say the shortages are the result of increased demand, but Ministers also blame Covid-related global supply issues.

Awareness campaigns, the Government’s cost initiative and waning concerns about HRT’s possible side-effects have all led to more women opting for the treatment.

Some firms have reported a tenfold increase in demand for HRT products over the last year.

But the situation is exacerbated by local health authorities restricting the range of HRT medications they keep to hand, claims expert Tina Backhouse. She said not all NHS clinical commissioning groups include a wide range of HRT in their drug inventories.

Ms Backhouse, of the pharmaceutical firm Theramax, added: ‘When we have shortages, this issue of restricted options of drugs really bites. That’s what we are seeing now. There’s a definite postcode lottery when it comes to HRT.’

A compounding factor is the sheer range of HRT, with some taken as tablets, while others comes as gels, patches and sprays, not to mention the different strengths.

Women often try several types before finding one that works well for them.

The shortage has seen women go to desperate lengths. Dr Channa Jayasena, a consultant in reproductive endocrinology at Imperial College London, said: ‘A lot of women are getting friends to go to other countries, such as India, on holiday to bring back a massive pack of HRT. That’s not good. There’s a risk about purity and whether you’re taking the right stuff.’

Katie Taylor, founder of the support group The Latte Lounge, said: ‘We’ve had messages from hundreds of women, many of whom are just absolutely desperate.

‘They can’t get their usual prescription, so a lot of them are driving for hours to go to four, five or six different pharmacists.

‘Others are Googling to see whether they can buy HRT on the black market, or asking friends who are going overseas to bring them back some patches or gels.’

Women’s Health Minister Maria Caulfield said suppliers had assured her that depleted stocks should be back to normal by June.’

LOUISE MINCHIN: It’s not just women who suffer from the HRT shortage, it’s their entire families too

By Louise Minchin for the Mail on Sunday

Three years ago I was suffering – and seriously.

The menopause had hit me with night sweats so intense I woke up feeling as though I had run a marathon in a jungle. Then there was the brain fog, heart palpitations and even tinnitus.

In fact, from the age of 45 I had developed as many as 26 symptoms of the menopause, including such severe hot flushes I had to ask my bosses at BBC Breakfast to turn down the temperature in the TV studio when I was presenting.

When I look back at myself in a film about the menopause I made for the BBC at that time, I realise how anxious and vulnerable I was. I feel sorry for that Louise, because now that I am on a fairly high dose of HRT I feel so much more calm and confident. For me, it has solved so many physical and psychological symptoms.

So when I read about the national shortage of HRT that is leaving millions of women like me unable to access vital supplies, my first thought was to worry about how I would cope if I ran out. The thought of going backwards to 2019, when I was between courses of HRT, is unbearable.

Faced with the supply crisis, I have started reducing my daily dose of Oestrogel to eke out my remaining stock as long as possible – and I am far from alone.

Female friends on my WhatsApp groups, from London to Hampshire and Norfolk, report being sent round in circles by GPs and pharmacies as they try to secure HRT gel, patches and pills. Worse, a number of friends say they are considering leaving their jobs.

They fear they will be unable to cope without HRT because it makes such a huge difference to their health at a vulnerable and important stage of their lives.

Many are working in demanding jobs that society depends on – from the NHS to teaching – while also caring for teenage children and elderly parents. But the threat to HRT supply is making women in midlife feel they simply can’t go on. That, to me, is heartbreaking because HRT is also so important to the happiness of their families, and to the way the whole of the UK works.

If your mum, your wife, your partner or your employee is not feeling themselves, it has an impact on everybody.

If men were having this problem, would we have got to this desperate situation? I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure they wouldn’t stand for it, and nor should women. If there was something men were taking that made their lives significantly easier, there would be pressure to change things and get it sorted out.

There needs to be a realisation by the Government that this is a serious issue. Women should be able to access HRT if it works for them. It should not be a choice, it is a necessity.

This is not just about helping millions of women. It’s about stopping the very fabric of British life breaking down.

‘If men had this problem, they would have called in the Army by now’: Tory MP Caroline Nokes reveals she is about to run out of her own HRT medication amid national shortage

By Anna Mikhailova Deputy Political Editor for the Mail on Sunday

One of the MPs who fought to change the law to make menopause drugs cheaper is about to run out of her own hormone replacement medication.

Caroline Nokes has revealed she will have used up her supply by Tuesday, after being hit by the national shortage of HRT products affecting women across Britain.

The Conservative MP, 49, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, last night told The Mail on Sunday she has been desperately trying to get her hands on more medication.

Caroline Nokes has revealed she will have used up her supply by Tuesday, after being hit by the national shortage of HRT products affecting women across Britain

Ms Nokes has been rationing her medication, which offsets menopause symptoms, and is now suffering from her symptoms flaring up again.

‘You can’t help but feel that, if this was a drug used exclusively by men, they’d have sent in the Army to beef up production by now,’ she said.

Ms Nokes has been inundated with emails from women in a similar position – one had been in touch with every pharmacy in Southampton, none of which had any HRT. ‘It’s chaos,’ she said, adding that women are ‘anxious and scared’.

Many of them, like her, are rationing what little they have left. ‘They are reducing the normal dosage to try to eke out the supplies they have for a bit longer,’ she added.

‘It means symptoms start creeping back in because you change the dosage. The sleepless nights, the sweats, the itching. I get these really itchy legs – I can sit there and scratch my legs until they bleed. It’s so hideous.’ Ms Nokes is backing The Mail on Sunday’s campaign to urgently fix the HRT shortage.

She was first prescribed Oestrogel in December.

But when she went to repeat her prescription, she was told it was no longer available and that she could only get Sandrena, another HRT medication, which was only available in one-month supplies. When she tried to get more this month, she was told by her pharmacists that neither drug was available.

Last week Ms Nokes resorted to an online provider and paid nearly £40 for a month’s supply. But 24 hours later she received an email saying they had run out of stock ‘due to nationwide shortages’ and her order wasn’t coming.

She says her friends have been in touch offering some of their spare doses, which she has been ‘really touched’ by. ‘But that shouldn’t be how it is,’ she said.

Ms Nokes was one of the cross-party MPs who last year backed Welsh Labour MP Carolyn Harris’s campaign to lower HRT costs.

And last week Ms Nokes asked the government to ensure it works ‘hand in glove’ with pharmacies to ensure women get the supplies they need, as Leader of the House Mark Spencer encouraged women to look to alternative medicines.

Last night Ms Nokes said: ‘It shouldn’t be a question of having to make do with a sub-optimal product just because we haven’t got our act together.’ While she credits the government for trying to boost supply, she says it needs to happen at a much faster pace. ‘The Department of Health is emphasising how the company that produces Oestrogel has doubled supplies.

‘But I spoke to the nurse at my surgery, who said that in the past 12 months she’d seen a tenfold increase in demand for HRT.’

She also credits campaigns run by the likes of Davina McCall, Mariella Frostrup and Penny Lancaster for helping to break the taboo around menopause, but says this has also contributed to the spike in demand for treatment.

‘We should be talking about it, and highlighting that we are losing women in the workplace because of menopause,’ said Ms Nokes.

‘Down to my last sachet – and next week is too late’ 

For Liz Hennessy, 50, from Brighton, HRT has been a lifesaver. Here, she explains why she fears running out:

‘Before I went on HRT in my late 40s, I felt exhausted, anxious, tearful and unable to concentrate on my job as a social worker.

‘Most alarmingly, I used to feel a huge anger and rage – kind of like a red mist – which used to build and build until I started shouting.

‘As a lone parent, a lot of this anger was unfortunately directed at my 12-year-old son, Joshua, which was awful.

‘Once I started on HRT the change was dramatic. I felt calmer and happier within weeks. My son [pictured, right, with Liz] said to me, “Mummy, you’re just so different. You were quite terrifying at times”.’

‘I’ll do anything to avoid going back to that dark place. So when I heard there were shortages of HRT I rang the GP because I knew I was running out.

‘Last week two pharmacies were out of stock of my usual treatment, Sandrena oestrogen gel. A third said they could get it next week – which is too late, because I’m down to my last sachet. My GP then prescribed me Lenzetto. But the pharmacy was out of that, too, so, finally, I have been prescribed Estradiol.

‘I’m worried about how the dosage compares to my original HRT, but I have to give it a try. I said to the GP, “I’m a single parent. It’s just me – and the mothership can’t go down”.’

 

For Liz Hennessy, 50, from Brighton, HRT has been a lifesaver

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