The Hormone Replacement Therapy shortage is leaving women suicidal and causing relationship breakdowns, an MP has warned.
Carolyn Harris, who chairs the parliamentary group which specializes in menopause, told The Independent she is “very angry” about the death of HRT – a treatment which alleviates menopausal symptoms – as she blamed the government for the problem.
The majority of the 3.4 million women between 50 and 64 in the UK will be experiencing symptoms of the menopause – with these ranging from heart palpitations to hot flushes, vaginal pain and changes in mood.
Since 2019, the UK has been hit with a nationwide HRT shortage as a consequence of manufacturing and supply issues.
Ms Harris said the shortage is leaving menopausal women “exhausted, frustrated, confused and frightened” – arguing the problem is caused by the government failing to predict and respond to the surge in demand for HRT triggered by greater awareness of the menopause.
The politician added: “It is scary. Women who can’t get HRT will be making really bad decisions because of brain fog. They will be giving up work, and there will be relationships ending, and women even contemplating suicide.
“They don’t understand what is going on in their body and can’t get the medication to stop it from happening.”
Ms Harris, the Labor MP for Swansea East, noted all these issues also apply to women who are unable to afford HRT as she accused the government of not sticking to their promise to make HRT prescriptions free in England. HRT is currently free in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The politician explained she negotiated with the government in October last year that she would pull her landmark menopause rights bill calling for free HRT on the agreement ministers would reduce the costs to one annual fee.
“They said that it would happen soon this year but it has not started and it is not going to happen until April 2023,” Ms Harris added.
She said the surge in women requesting HRT prescriptions was triggered by the swelling menopause rights campaign as she explained growing awareness has made women “confident enough” to go back to their GP to tell them they want to come off antidepressants and be prescribed HRT instead.
Ms Harris added: “I am very angry about the HRT shortage and frustrated for the women who can’t get HRT. It is cruel. The government could do something by making sure the alternative products sitting in manufacturers are made available.
“It is bad planning by the suppliers and bad planning by the government. The government are responsible for working with health boards to find out what the demand is for prescriptions.”
Menopause campaigners have previously warned of the link between suicide and the menopause.
Diane Danzebrink, who runs the Menopause Support network, which works with 10,000 women, previously told The Independent: “The shortage places some women at risk of becoming potentially suicidal.
“The biggest risk of suicide for women is between the ages of 50 and 54. The average age of menopause is 51. That is not a coincidence. My menopause made me suicidal – I got very close to putting my car in front of a lorry.”
Ms Harris’ scathing comments come after Caroline Nokes, an ex-cabinet minister, said women are struggling to “sleep and work competently” as a result of the HRT shortage.
Ms Nokes, a Conservative MP, said: “Pharmacies in Romsey and Southampton North have completely run out, which leaves women of a certain age – and before my honorable friend from North Dorset makes a comment … yes, I declare an interest – without access to the oestrogen gel, which enables us to sleep and to work competently.
While Mark Spencer, the Commons leader, responded: “I can say the Department of Health and Social Care is aware of the supply issues 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.”
The last five years have seen the number of HRT prescriptions in England double. Ministers pledged to substantially reduce the price of HRT prescriptions last October.
Dr Edward Morris, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ president, told The Independent: “We understand that the shortages of some types of HRT can be distressing for women.
“We strongly encourage women who have been affected by these shortages to speak to a healthcare professional, as many alternatives are available. They will also be able to advise other treatment options if an exact match is not possible.
“The British Menopause Society website provides regular updates on the availability of HRT, and advice on alternative HRT preparations that are available for products in short supply.”
It comes after The Independent reported nine in 10 women going through menopause experiencing mental health issues, with many suffering “crippling” anxiety and depression.
Maria Caulfield, minister for women’s health, said all women going through menopause should be provided with “appropriate care and support”.
She added: “HRT can be a lifeline to women suffering from debilitating symptoms and while the majority of HRT products remain available, supply issues for a limited number of products are understandably distressing for women who rely on this medication.
“We’re working closely with suppliers and partners to resolve these matters as quickly as possible, and I urge anyone concerned about accessing HRT to speak to their GP.
“We’re also reducing the cost of HRT meaning women can pay a one-off charge equivalent to two single prescription charges, currently £18.70, for all their HRT prescriptions for a year. We are implementing this system as quickly as possible.”