The DHSC has issued three Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) in response to concerns regarding longer prescribing cylces putting pressure on availability of some HRT products.
The SSPs, which are due to expire on 29 July 2022, allow pharmacists to supply patients with no more than three months' supply of Oestrogel, Ovestin Cream and Premique Low Dose according to the protocol without needing to consult the prescriber. Pharmacists must use their professional skill and judgement to decide whether it is reasonable to reduce supply according to the SSP, and patients must be consulted.
Women who have a prescription for more than three months but are only supplied with three months’ worth will not have to pay an additional prescription charge.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: 'I want to reassure women I have listened to their concerns and will not hesitate to take decisive action to ensure they can access the HRT they need.'
'We will leave no stone unturned in our national mission to boost supply of HRT – and this next step will ensure women across the UK will be able to reliably access this vital medication and maintain this lifeline for millions who need it,' he added.
Tackling the rise in demand
Due to greater awareness around the menopause, there has been a spike in demand and number of HRT prescriptions has significantly increased by 38% over the last seven years. Whilst the vast majority of HRT products remain in good supply, the increase in demand has led to the current shortage of some products.
In response to the shortages, the governement recently appointed former COVID-19 vaccine taskforce director general, Madeline McTernan as head of the newly formed HRT taskforce to address the supply chain issues.
The taskforce will aim to apply the lessons learned from how the government procured COVID-19 vaccines to identify ways to improve supplies of HRT. It will engage with suppliers to gain a good understanding of supply restrictions, the NHS Business Service Authority to secure access to real-time dispensing data, and professional bodies such as the RCGP and PSNC, to help prescribers respond appropriately to the rise in demand.
The government has also announced that they are taking action to increase access and reduce the cost of HRT. From April 2023, those prescribed HRT can pay a one-off charge equivalent to two single prescription charges, currently £18.70, to cover their HRT prescriptions for the year.
The introduction of this pre-payment certificate will allow women to access HRT products on a monthly basis if needed, easing pressure on supply whilst keeping the cost of HRT low.
Prescribers are reminded that they can find alternative HRT preparations using the MIMS HRT table, which allows them to compare hormone doses, formulations and costs of all HRT products marketed in the UK.