The head of the UK’s Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce will spearhead a new unit set up to help tackle the country’s shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

After acute shortages of some HRT products have been reported across the UK, with one MP claiming pharmacies in her constituency had ‘completely run out’ of oestrogen gel, Vaccine Taskforce director general Madelaine McTernan will lead a new HRT Supply Taskforce to identify ways to support the HRT supply chain.

The shortage is due, in part, to a rise in demand as a result of a greater awareness around the menopause, with a 38 per cent increase in the number of prescription items over the past seven years.

This comes as PSNC announced three new serious shortage protocols for HRT medicines (to 29 July): Oestrogel Pump-Pack 0.06% gel, Ovestin 1mg cream and Premique Low Dose 0.3mg/1.5mg modified-release tablets.

Additional members of the Vaccine Taskforce will also be redeployed to support the HRT taskforce, as health secretary Sajid Javid promised to ‘leave no stone unturned to help make sure women can get the HRT they need’.

The HRT taskforce will be responsible for:

  • Engaging with HRT suppliers to ensure there is a good understanding of supply constraints, and what can be done to address them.
  • Working with NHS Business Services Authority to secure access to real time HRT dispensing data in order to improve understanding of supply, demand and what is driving shortages.
  • Engaging with professional bodies including Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee to support pharmacists and prescribers to ensure they respond appropriately to increased demand.

Ms McTernan said: ‘We will apply the key learnings from the successful way the Vaccine Taskforce have procured lifesaving vaccines during the pandemic to help ensure women have reliable ongoing access to these critical medicines.’

The new taskforce forms part of a wider government agenda to reduce the gender health gap and increase support for menopausal and peri-menopausal women. In the recent call for evidence to inform the upcoming government-led Women’s Health Strategy for England, menopause was the third most selected topic that respondents picked for inclusion in the plan, with 48 per cent of respondents selecting this as a priority.

A UK-wide Menopause Taskforce will consider the role education and training, workplace policies and peer groups for menopausal women can play in supporting women through what can be a mentally and physically challenging time.

Creation of the HRT Supply Taskforce comes after Thorrun  Govind, chair of the English Pharmacy Board, voiced concerns about the ‘danger for women’ in obtaining HRT online and through marketplaces, and not through pharmacies.

The RPS is calling for community pharmacists to be able to dispense substitutes for out-of-stock HRT products without having to contact the prescriber.

Last year, the Government announced it would be launching a single annual prepayment for HRT.

The scheme, which some thought was meant to begin ‘within months’, was first announced in October 2021 and has the potential to save individuals up to £205 by enabling women to pay one charge for a 12-month supply of HRT.

However, the scheme’s launch has already been delayed by a year. which pharmacy leaders have deemed ‘disappointing’. The government now says this system will be implemented from April 2023.

The HRT shortages also come after prescription data, published last month, suggested HRT prescriptions had doubled over the last five years.