The shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is leaving women unable to sleep and work competently, former cabinet minister Caroline Nokes MP has brought to light.
HRT is used to help relieve most symptoms of the menopause, which include hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, anxiety, joint pains, vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex, difficulty sleeping and more, all of which have a negative impact on daily life.
Millions go through the menopause each year as a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 as women's oestrogen levels decline, although one in 100 also experience it before 40, known as premature menopause.
Prescriptions for HRT have more than doubled in England since 2017, with some 583,000 made in December 2021 alone. But with the rise in prescriptions have also come shortages, which have been attributed to manufacturing and supply issues, stretched further by the growing popularity.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, Nokes, Chair of the women and equalities committee, called for a debate to ensure pharmacies and subsequently women "can get the supplies that we need".
"Pharmacies in Romsey and Southampton North have completely run out, which leaves women of a certain age – and before my honourable friend from North Dorset makes a comment... yes, I declare an interest – without access to the oestrogen gel, which enables us to sleep and work competently," she said.
"Please, will the leader of the house arrange for a debate in this place following on from the brilliant debate by the right honourable lady for Swansea East to make sure that pharmacies are working hand in glove with the DHSC so that we can get the supplies that we need?"
Mark Spencer, the Commons leader, said, "I can say the Department of Health and Social Care is aware of the supply issue that are affecting a limited number of HRT products. However, most HRT products, including alternatives to those experiencing supply issues, are available.
"The government is working closely with suppliers and stakeholders to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, and to ensure the NHS is informed on a regular basis."
Nokes tweeted at the time, "This morning in business questions I raised the issue of access to HRT. This is a real problem with many pharmacies unable to supply the oestrogen gel many of us rely on to be able to sleep/work etc."
One user commented, "I'm sure, if it was a Viagra shortage, it would have been sorted very quickly" to which Nokes responded, "I very nearly said that in the House this am – if it was Viagra there would be action."
Another wrote, "I am terrified of going back to my life before HRT. It was truly horrendous and I worry about not being able to get my oestrogen gel. I’ve been told by my pharmacy that they also ran out of the sachets. I’m allergic to patches. This is a real problem for so many."
"I’m in a blind panic about this-no stock anywhere near me so I’ve got 2 days worth left & can’t get a GP phone appointment until next Tuesday to get an alternative prescribed. The thought of feeling how I did before I took it is really scary," said another.
In October the government announced that the cost of repeat prescriptions for HRT would be significantly reduced in England, which Carolyn Harris MP also raised. "Can I just highlight that, women in England, despite promises by the Government to introduce reduce charges, it still has not happened.
"My attempts to get answers for these women about costs and the shortage has been thwarted by the Department of Health and Social Care."
She highlighted a "total disregard for women" and insisted "we must stop treating women in this way".
"Can the Leader of the House please help me to help the 13 million menopausal women in this country who are deserving of our respect?"
One Twitter user wrote, "Great work Carolyn but seems to be going on and on and we aren't getting answers to HRT supply shortage problem. A lot of women cannot do without this medication. Never a shortage with other medicines, viagra, contraception or anti depressants. We need answers NOW."
Sajid Javid has since announced he intends to appoint a HRT tsar to help solve the shortages that campaigners say are leaving menopausal women unable to sleep and work, with some reportedly now sharing their prescriptions and feeling suicidal from the shortage of medication.
For more information visit the The Menopause Charity or if you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you, or you're experiencing signs before 45, speak to your GP.
HRT shortage: Government 'confident' supplies 'back on track' soon