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If you take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), you'll know first hand the devastating impact of the current shortage of the medication. And now, Labour MP Carolyn Harris, co-chair of the UK menopause task force, has spoken about her views on Health Secretary Sajid Javid's recently-announced plan to hire an 'HRT tsar,' to address the crisis, as well as her view on the root of this issue.
Of the 3.4 million women between 50 and 64 in the UK, the majority will be experiencing at least some menopausal symptoms, including dramatic mood changes, trouble sleeping and 'brain fog'.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (25 April) Harris stated that she believes 'bad planning' to be behind the shortage. 'The company who makes this product [a commonly used oestrogen replacement gel] and the government didn't foresee the kind of demand there was going to be for it,' she stated. 'The government really should have done a lot more a lot sooner,' she added.
This morning I spoke to @BBCRadio4 @BBCr4today about the crippling #HRTshortages affecting millions of women across the country.
I support @sajidjavid's appointment of a Menopause Tsar and sincerely hope this will get to grips with this crisis. #menopausemandate pic.twitter.com/8BTjqhmMts
— Carolyn Harris MP (@carolynharris24) April 25, 2022
When asked about Javid's plan to bring in an 'HRT supply chairperson', to tackle the problem, she said: 'I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is doing something about this, because somebody needed to, because up until now they’ve not bothered. But it doesn’t really need a tsar, if I’m honest.'
She added: 'He could do this, he could decide to loosen the regulations on the formularies and make this product available across the country. It could happen very, very quickly. My concern is that it’s not being kicked into the long grass, but I won’t let that happen.'
After her appearance, Harris shared a clip of her interview via Twitter, writing in the caption: 'I support @sajidjavid's appointment of a Menopause Tsar and sincerely hope this will get to grips with this crisis.'
What is being done to tackle the HRT shortage?
On Sunday (24 April) Javid announced that he was 'determined' to get HRT supply to meet demand. 'I will be urgently convening a meeting with suppliers to look at ways we can work together to improve supply in the short and long term. It’s also clear to me that we need to apply some of the lessons from the vaccine taskforce to this challenge, so we will soon be recruiting for an HRT supply chairperson,' he said.
What impact is the HRT shortage having?
Harris has previously said that the shortage is leaving some menopausal women 'exhausted, frustrated, confused and frightened,' as well as dealing with 'brain fog' (a common menopause symptom).
'They will be giving up work, and there will be relationships ending, and women even contemplating suicide,' she told The Independent. 'They don’t understand what is going on in their body and can’t get the medication to stop it from happening.'
If you are struggling with suicidal ideation, it's vital that you seek help immediately. The NHS has a list of phone lines and text services. You are not alone.
Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Women and Equality Committee, meanwhile, has said that pharmacies in her constituency had run out of oestrogen gel, which she said 'enables us to sleep and to work competently.'
Why has this shortage happened?
The current shortage has been attributed to manufacturing and supply issues, as well as to increased demand.
Speaking to Radio 4, Harris went on to say that this shortage has not happened 'overnight.' Instead, she said, shortages have been occurring over the past '3 or 4 years since we started raising awareness of the menopause.' Recent data indicates that HRT prescriptions have more than doubled over the past 5 years.
She noted that, thanks to this work, more women had gained awareness of common menopausal symptoms, such as low mood, anxiety, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating and memory issues.
As such, more have felt empowered to go to their GPs and say that they don't want antidepressants – as they might have been initially recommended – but that they are menopausal, and want hormone replacement therapy which will help them feel more like their old selves. (2019 research found that over a third of women who went to their GP with menopausal symptoms were being offered antidepressants, with 80% of these women feeling these were an 'inappropriate' treatment for their symptoms.)
Of the shortage, Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: '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.'
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