Tens of thousands of women are being harmed by ‘catastrophic’ shortages of HRT and contraception, campaigners warned today.
Professional bodies, doctors and MPs are demanding immediate action from the Health Secretary to alleviate the crisis, insisting ‘women deserve better’.
In a joint letter to the Matt Hancock, health leaders warned that women have been left in distress for over a year due to shortages of HRT medication.
Meanwhile worsening shortages of contraceptive drugs are causing ‘utter chaos’, leading to unplanned pregnancies and risking a spike in abortions.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Menopause Society and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare urged the Government to launch a working group to investigate into the crisis.
In a letter expressing frustration at the ‘lack of transparency’ over the reasons for the shortages, they said it is still unclear why they ‘seem to be unique to the UK’.
The call for action was backed by MPs, doctors and campaigners – who described the situation as a ‘national disgrace’.
The shortage of hormone replacement therapy, first exposed by the Mail, has been ongoing for more than a year with all major patches and pills affected.
It has hit ‘almost all’ of the one million women in the UK who take HRT, which replaces the oestrogen lost during the menopause.
Many women have been forced to switch brands or even go cold turkey, prompting the return of crippling symptoms including anxiety and hot flushes.
The letter to Matt Hancock said that, in addition to women being left in ‘distress’ due to HRT being unavailable, they are also suffering from shortages of several forms of contraception.
Several commonly prescribed contraceptive tablets, including Cilest and Loestrin, are currently unavailable in pharmacies.
The letter said: ‘We are concerned this situation may lead to a rise in unplanned pregnancies and abortions, whilst inadvertently affecting the most vulnerable in our society.’
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), warned that women are struggling to get the pill, adding: ‘It is not surprising that we are seeing unplanned pregnancies as a result’.
Diane Danzebrink, founder of the Menopause Support campaign, said: ‘The women of this country have been let down and neglected by the Government. It is a national disgrace.
‘The shortages have had a catastrophic impact and caused huge anxiety.
‘There has been a complete lack of information from the Department of Health.
‘Women have been left to fend for themselves.’
Conservative MP Caroline Noakes said: ‘It seems incomprehensible that this has been allowed to drag on for so long, and the DHSC should be using every effort to get it sorted.
‘I have met constituents who have obtained the patches they need in Spain whilst on holiday and they are understandably furious that they cannot get them here.’
Doctors complain they have been left in the dark over the causes of the shortages, but said they expect the situation to improve next month.
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘We understand the HRT supply situation should begin to improve from February 2020 as the range of products which supply 70 per cent of the HRT patch market will be re-introduced to the UK market.
‘However a number of HRT medications and contraceptives remain unavailable, some until the end of this year, and some with no timeline as to when they will be back on the market.
‘It remains unclear why there is a shortage in the first place or when the normal supply of the products might resume. The lack of transparency around why these shortages have occurred is extremely frustrating.
‘Thousands of women and girls have been adversely affected by this ongoing situation and they deserve better.
‘We are calling on the DHSC to set up a working group with industry, regulatory agencies and our organisations to get to the root of why shortages in both HRT and contraceptives have occurred.
This working group must work together to ensure that this situation is prevented from happening again.’
Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said: ‘We are very concerned by the continuing reported shortages of contraceptives which may inadvertently lead to a rise in unplanned pregnancies.
‘We have received queries from our members who are finding it increasingly hard to prescribe contraception.
‘We are aware that women are sent away with prescriptions for unavailable products and end up lost in a system that is frustrating to navigate.
‘This is causing utter chaos for patients, clinicians and pharmacists.
‘For some contraceptive methods, a truly equivalent alternative just does not exist.’ Mr Haitham Hamoda, Chair of the British Menopause Society, said: ‘It is very frustrating that we still do not know why these shortages are happening, and why they seem to be unique to the UK.’
Almost all categories of medication have been hit by shortages in the past year, which experts say are caused by a by a ‘perfect storm’ of manufacturing problems in the global supply chain.
However, treatment women’s reproductive health have been disproportionately affected.
Of the 30 drugs currently banned from export in the UK, to preserve supplies for British treatments, more than half are either HRT or contraceptives.
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘For some time we have been experiencing serious shortages of many formations of HRT, as well as some oral contraceptives.
‘The reasons for these shortages are not clear and are likely multi-factorial but they need to be sorted out as a matter of urgency as presently they are having a significant impact on GP and pharmacist workload, and causing a great deal of uncertainty, inconvenience and distress for patients.
‘We would support the formation of a working group to get to the bottom of why these shortages are happening, and how to rectify the situation.’
Sharon Hodgson MP, Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, said: ‘It is unacceptable that patients have not been able to access HRT and contraceptives for so long.
‘This has had unbearable consequences on women, which must be put to an end.
‘The Government must be transparent about why these shortages were allowed to happen and continue for so long, and what provisions will be put in place for patients who need access to HRT and contraceptives.’