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‘Capacity constraints’ behind shortages of widely-used contraceptives


By Isabel Shaw

11 Dec 2020

Six widely-used contraceptive pills will be out of stock until early next year, the Department of Health and Social Care has warned.

In an alert issued to pharmacy contractors at the end of last month (November), the Government listed six oral contraceptives from three different manufacturers, which it said will be out of stock until January or February next year.  

Two manufacturers told the Pharmacist that ‘capacity constraints’ were the reason for the supply shortages.

The six contraceptives are Brevinor, Norimin, Norinyl-1, Synphase, Yiznell and Femodette. According to the DHSC alert, only two of the six have exact equivalents available for contractors to source from UK manufacturers.

This comes after sexual health experts wrote to ministers in February warning that shortages of contraceptives may lead to ‘a rise in unplanned pregnancies and abortions, whilst inadvertently affecting the most vulnerably in society’. The organisations added that the ‘lack of transparency’ around why the supply issues have occurred was ‘extremely frustrating’.

‘Working hard to address issues’

A spokesperson for Pfizer told the Pharmacist that it was ‘working hard to address supply issues with several widely-used oral contraceptives’ – Brevinor, Norimin, Synphase and Norinyl-1 – and that the shortages were due to ‘manufacturing site upgrading and capacity constraints’.

The DHSC alert said ‘unlicensed imports’ of all four have been sourced, but the lead times may vary – and there is no exact equivalent available in the UK market for Brevinor, Norinyl-1 or Norimin.

The Pfizer spokesperson said: ‘We completely understand how important oral contraceptives are to those who rely on them. As such, we are working as fast as we possibly can to ensure supplies return to normal levels, which we expect to be by January/February 2021.   

‘For any patients affected by the supply issues, we strongly encourage them to speak to their healthcare professional who can recommend alternative contraceptives. Healthcare professionals are advised to refer to clinical guidelines and the Medicine Supply Notification.’

They added: Our key partners at the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have been notified of these supply shortages and we will continue to be in regular contact.’

‘Capacity constraints’

A spokesperson for Bayer, which manufactures Femodette, confirmed to the Pharmacist that there is a ‘temporary shortage’ of its hormonal products, including Femodette in the UK.

The spokesperson said the shortage is caused by ‘capacity constraints in Bayer’s global supply network for hormonal products and has an impact on a number of countries’.

They added: ‘Due to the specific nature of the hormonal product formulations and packaging, an increase in production or moving significant volumes to other manufacturing sites is not feasible. Bayer has informed the health authority in the UK of the temporary supply disruption.

‘Bayer regrets the inconvenience caused by this situation and we are making every effort to limit the impact on our customers and pursue re-supply with urgency. Women who are concerned or may be affected shall reach out to their healthcare professionals to identify alternative products and treatment options available in the market.’

Lupin, a drug company which manufactures Yiznell – another of the contraceptives reported as out of stock – has been approached for comment.


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