Health minister Maria Caulfield has denied a national shortage of Utrogestan (progesterone), amid reports of supply delays and difficulties getting hold of the hormone treatment.

On Twitter this weekend she invited people to share where they were experiencing problems getting hold of their medication, but said that there was no issue with stock on a national level.

She asked individuals affected by the shortages to get in touch with her directly to share where the issues were.

‘We have got national stock as I see the supply figures but clearly there are local distribution issues in some parts. It’s helpful to know so we can speak to pharmacies and distributors to get the stock to where the problems are’, she wrote in a Tweet.

But individuals on Twitter reported issues in London, Cardiff, Newcastle upon Tyne, Suffolk, Maidenhead, High Wycombe, Slough, Eastleigh, Wolverhampton, Shropshire, Yorkshire, Scotland and East Sussex, including in Ms Caulfield’s constituency of Lewes.

Utrogestan manufacturer Besins Healthcare said in a statement last week that deliveries of its Utrogestan 100mg capsules had been delayed by a week, and that more stock was expected to arrive this week (w/c 20 February).

‘We recognise this delay is frustrating for patients and we sincerely regret the inconvenience caused. In the meantime, we are working to try and reduce this timeframe,’ it said.

Meanwhile new supplies of Utrogestan vaginal 200mg capsules were not expected until the middle of March, Besins Healthcare added.

Ms Caulfield said that she was contacting suppliers today about Utrogestan supply ‘as this seems to be the product with the biggest issue’, adding that ‘over 70 HRT products are in good supply’, although ‘I recognise that’s not a comfort if your specific HRT is hard to obtain’.

She said that in her latest update from the manufacturer, ‘supplies of Utrogestan 100mg capsules continue to arrive from our manufacturing site on a regular basis. However due to exceptional demand from the UK there is a possibility that supplies at local wholesalers may become depleted faster than usual’.

She added that SSPs were in place for five HRT products 'and most of these will be in stock fully by end of Feb', and that other issues 'appear to be distribution issues which we are working on'.

Meanwhile MP Carolyn Harris shared a video that read: ‘If this Utrogestan shortage was caused by the UK’s “exceptional demand” as the minister has said, then it was because the government lacked the foresight to meet with manufacturers in advance and prepare for this eventuality.’

It called for the government to meet with HRT manufacturers and suppliers ahead of the implementation of the promised HRT prepayment certificate, due to become available from 1 April, to ensure that supply would be able to keep up with demand when HRT becomes ‘more accessible’ for women in England than ever before.

Ms Harris added that the government last met with HRT manufacturers in October 2022 to resolve ongoing HRT supply issues.

She told The Pharmacist: 'Shortages of HRT have been an ongoing issue for months. After initially denying the problem, Government Ministers have now admitted that due to high demand some areas of the country are experiencing shortages of Utrogestan.

'Months down the line, high demand is a poor excuse.  The Government should have been working with pharmaceutical companies to manage this but instead they have cancelled meetings, and this is the result. Women, once again, suffering because of the Government’s failure to prioritise this area of women’s health.'

Community pharmacist Michael O’Sullivan from the Junction Pharmacy in Brixton, South London, said that he had been experiencing difficulties in ordering Utrogestan from his local suppliers for about a month.

He said that supply was available in ‘dribs and drabs’, and that he might be able to order enough for his patients but that it would immediately go out of stock.

‘Right now, when I'm logging in [to order supplies] it's not appearing, but if I log in tomorrow, I might get like a small amount’, he explained.

‘Several months ago, I could order it quite freely. Now it's quite restricted,’ he said.

He added that he had received communication from local suppliers that there was a shortage, but not why it had occurred.

Kelly Bridgewood, a dispenser at Shieldfield Pharmacy in Newcastle upon Tyne, said that her pharmacy had been experiencing shortages of Utrogestan for around two to three months, and that others in the area were also unable to get hold of it.

‘We order it about three times a day and it just keeps coming back rejected’, she said, adding that the shortages could cause patients to become annoyed and frustrated.

Because the pharmacy is not able to supply an alternative for Utrogestan, she said that they had to go back to the GP to request a different prescription, which created more workload for both parties and delayed the patient’s medication by around a day.

While Debbie Baker, a community pharmacist at St Anne’s Pharmacy in Lewes, East Sussex, described Utrogeston shortages as ‘the tip of the iceberg’ when it came to medicines supply issues.

‘There's thousands and thousands of items that we're experiencing shortages with on a daily basis,’ she said, adding that dealing with shortages led to increased workload and financial concerns for community pharmacies.

Utrogestan, a formulation of progesterone, is used as a treatment in infertility, early pregnancy and as part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause.

A spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that it had received some reports that contractors have been unable to get hold of these products and was passing these on to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

DHSC, Ms Caulfield and Besins Healthcare have been approached for comment.

In December, the DHSC denied supply issues with amoxicillin amid reports of ‘patchy’ supply. It later said that there was ‘no supplier shortage of antibiotics' but that increased demand around Strep A concerns meant that ‘some pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining certain antibiotics'.