Relax law to ease HRT shortage, pharmacists say
A simple law change around prescribing could help ease the treatment crisis facing many women going through the menopause, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) says.
Some are now struggling with untreated symptoms due to shortages of some types of hormone-replacement therapy (HRT).
Women who rely on the medicine have reported feeling suicidal without it.
The RPS wants pharmacists in England to be able to alter GP prescriptions and make medicine swaps when appropriate.
Currently, pharmacists must dispense the exact product and amount of medication on the prescription.
If it is not available, a substitute cannot be given out without consulting the GP who prescribed the medicine.
HRT is not the only type of medicine that has been in short supply.
Pharmacy staff in England say they are facing abuse and aggression from patients frustrated when they cannot get their medication.
A survey by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee suggests medicine supply-chain problems are a daily issue for many pharmacies - affecting two-thirds of the 5,000 premises representatives they spoke with.
PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison said: "Pharmacy teams will do everything to ensure that patients get what they need, so it is particularly worrying to see the impact that pressures are starting to have on patients and the public as well."
Millions of women in the UK experience menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, low mood and anxiety.
Television-presenter Davina McCall has campaigned for prescription costs to be cut to help more access HRT.
But demand is already outstripping supply.
In England, prescriptions have more than doubled since 2017.
And in in Northern Ireland some women are borrowing each other's HRT medication, according to a menopause-support group.
RPS president Prof Claire Anderson said: "Difficulties in accessing HRT unfairly impacts women, affects their mental health and worsens health inequalities.
"This is an area that not only impacts our patients but also the health and care workforce.
"The government should now go further and end unfair prescription charges for patients in England altogether.
"Pharmacists spend many hours dealing with medicines shortages when we'd rather be talking to patients about their care.
"One solution would be to enable pharmacists to make minor changes to a prescription when something is out of stock.
"This is faster for patients and more efficient for the NHS."
The government has said it is determined to make sure supplies meet high demand.
Minister for Women's Health Maria Caulfield said: "There are over 70 HRT products available in the UK, most of which remain in good supply, however we are aware of some issues with women being unable to access certain products.
"We will be appointing a new HRT supply chairperson, and convening an urgent meeting of suppliers to look at ways we can work together to improve supply."
Manufacturers are currently increasing supplies, including those of hormone-gel product Oestrogel.
The British Menopause Society says women should consider "equivalent alternative HRT preparations" if they are unable to get their usual treatment.
Source: Michelle Roberts, Digital health editor, BBC News Online