Why is There a HRT Shortage in the UK in 2022?

17th May 2022

HRT, also known as hormone replacement therapy, is currently facing a shortage in the United Kingdom. 

HRT is a form of therapy that is used to ease the symptoms of menopause, but, due to a shortage in HRT products, many women around the country are struggling to deal with these symptoms. But, what has actually caused the HRT shortage in the UK? And what is being done by the government in order to tackle this important issue? 

HRT products are used by millions of women in the UK and are a vital part of dealing with the early signs of menopause.

What is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?

Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT for short, is a form of therapy used by women when they begin to experience symptoms of menopause. The medication that is used in HRT contains the hormones commonly found in the female body, oestrogen and progesterone. Some preparations contain oestrogen only. There are certain factors to consider before deciding on which type of HRT may be suitable. 

Menopause is indicated by the reduction in the levels of oestrogen. When the body stops producing as much oestrogen as before menopause begins, many different effects occur in the female body, and hormone levels can become irregular. This is what HRT is used for. HRT medications will contain oestrogen in order to keep the levels of oestrogen in the body stable. There are also other conditions that can be developed due to a reduction in oestrogen levels, so ensuring levels are maintained is very important. 

One of the major conditions that can be developed due to low oestrogen levels is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the density of the bones and is most commonly found in women who have become affected by menopause at an early age. Not only does HRT help to prevent issues such as osteoporosis, but it also combats the early symptoms of menopause. 

Early signs of menopause include symptoms such as having hot flushes, vaginal dryness/a discomfort during sexual intercourse, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, night sweats, a lack of concentration, and a reduced sex drive, also known as libido. 

Why is there a HRT shortage in the UK?

Currently, the United Kingdom is experiencing a shortage of HRT products. The actual cause of this shortage is unknown, but there are many theories. One of the most prominent theories is that it is due to an increase in demand for HRT products because of rising awareness of how helpful they can be for women suffering from the early signs of menopause. Because of this, the supply chain of HRT products has almost completely halted. 

The demand for HRT products has sharply risen due to changes to government legislation in October 2021 that changes the way in which HRT prescriptions are charged. This change was made following protests led by celebrities Davina McCall and Penny Lancaster. 

According to the Department for Health and Social Care, the demand for HRT products has increased by nearly 40%, putting an immense strain on providers of the medication. As well as this, HRT prescriptions have increased by up to 50% since 2017.

The British Menopause Society is also pointing toward the COVID-19 pandemic as a potential factor that has affected the supply of HRT medication, stating that there has been added pressure on GPs, pharmacies, and prescribers during this time, leading to a possible loss of focus on HRT medication. 

What is being done to tackle the HRT shortage?

In order to combat the HRT shortage, the government have said that they are going to be putting new measures in place in order to ensure people are receiving the medication that they need. A new HRT tsar has been put in place in order to deal with the issue, in the form of Madelaine McTernan, who has previously helped oversee the rolling out of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the duties that Ms McTernan will undertake involve working alongside providers of the medication, the NHS Business Service Authority, and governing bodies such as the Royal College of GPs, who will, in turn, look to help and work alongside prescribers and pharmacists to cope with demand. 

The task force has been put together by Health and Social Care secretary Sajid Javid, who said: “I understand how much women rely on HRT, which is why we will leave no stone unturned to help make sure women can get the HRT they need.”

The number of women that are speaking out about the effects they are facing due to a lack of menopause is vast. Davina McCall, who led the protests to change the charges of HRT prescriptions has said: "Why is it taking this long to sort this out?" 

McCall has been criticised and blamed for potentially being the cause of the shortages, something that is being coined as the Davina effect. 

When asked about this, she added: "I get really kind of annoyed when people are like, 'well it's Davina's fault'. You know what, we are actually trying to help women sort out their hormones and live a normal, healthy life.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also had his say regarding the crisis. Johnson said: “I sympathise deeply with women who need their treatment, and HRT is clearly of massive importance to this country, and it’s vital for people's wellbeing.”

He would then add, “We need to take a very aggressive approach to fixing it,” and, “If there are regulatory things that we need to do, if there are simplifications that we need to put in place to allow people to have access to different types of treatment where that’s not currently available, then I’m all in favour of speed.”

When HRT prescriptions were made cheaper in October 2021, Johnson stated that it would be easier for women to access HRT. This has not yet been the case.