Ministers are restricting an hormone replacement therapy medicine for menopause symptoms to two-month prescriptions as the supplier struggles to meet soaring demand.
Utrogestan is expected to be in intermittent supply until late this year, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Officials said its manufacturer, Besins, was increasing supply but still unable to fill the gap.
On Friday, the government issued a serious shortage protocol (SSP) for Utrogestan 100mg capsules. Pharmacists can only dispense a maximum of two months’ supply for every prescription so women who undergo HRT can keep accessing treatment.
The DHSC said SSPs were a standard procedure frequently deployed to manage and prevent temporary medicine supply issues.
“Today’s decisive action will mean more women will be able to access this medicine, and I want to reassure women that the vast majority of HRT products are in good supply,” said women’s minister, Maria Caulfield.
“The overall supply of HRT products has improved considerably over the last year and I am encouraged by how the industry is responding to the growth in demand and our continued calls for action to boost supply to meet it.”
Caulfield added: “We continue working to help ensure continuity of supply – which is a key part of increasing support for menopausal and pre-menopausal women and improving their quality of life.”
While 22 SSPs were issued for HRT products since April last year – when Britain experienced an acute shortage – the DHSC said only two remained in place: Friday’s order on Utrogestan and another for Progynova 100 microgram patches.
Some HRT medicines were added to the list of products that cannot be exported from or hoarded in the UK so as to ensure adequate supply remains available to patients, an official said.
Last year’s HRT crisis has pushed some women to turn to the black market or meet up with other women to buy, swap or share medicines.
Last month, health officials apologised after women were unable to access cheaper hormone replacement therapy prescriptions under a scheme designed to reduce prescription costs.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) estimates that about 1 million women in the UK use treatment for the symptoms of menopause.
HRT boosts levels of hormones – particularly oestrogen – that subside as women age towards menopause. In the process, HRT relieves many menopause-related symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness, according to the NHS. Nice reported about 80% of women going through menopause experience these symptoms.
In January, a cross-party women and equalities committee’s proposal to make menopause a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act was partly rejected by the government over fears it may discriminate against men.