A nationwide shortage of contraceptive pills could lead to a wave of unplanned pregnancies, experts have warned.
Women are struggling to get hold of several common birth control pills, such as Lestrin and Cilest.
Leading brands have confirmed there are problems in the manufacturing process – but have given little indication of when it will be resolved.
Experts have revealed the lack of supply has become increasingly worse in recent months and described it as a ‘very concerning’.
GPs are advised to offer an alternative drug, but this can cause side effects and has left women scrambling to book more appointments.
A nationwide shortage of the contraceptive pill could lead to a wave of unwanted pregnancies, experts have warned
The inadequate supply of birth control comes amid a HRT drug shortage – to treat menopausal symptoms – which reached a crisis point last week.
Around 3.1million British women use a contraceptive pill.
Loestrin has been out of stock since June and there is ‘no anticipated resupply date’, according to Galen, which supplies it.
Cilest, supplied by Janssen, was discontinued in July for ‘commercial’ reasons.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘Shortages of oral contraceptives have become significantly worse in recent months.
‘This is very concerning for both GPs and patients… It’s not entirely clear why we are currently experiencing shortages.
‘It seems as though there are several factors at play – and we don’t know how long the shortages will last.’
She added that it adds to GP workloads, ‘as looking for suitable alternatives is very time consuming’.
‘It is also very inconvenient and can be distressing for patients if they can’t get the treatments they are used to,’ Professor Stokes-Lampard said.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said if women are not able to get hold of their pill, it could trigger a rise in pregnancies.
Katherine O’Brien, from BPAS, described the shortage as ‘concerning’. She told The Sun: ‘It can take a long time for women to find the method that is right for them.
WHAT CONTRACEPTIVE PILLS ARE OUT OF STOCK?
- Loestrin – out of stock with no anticipated resupply date
- Cilest – discontinued from July 2019
- Microgynon – problems till at least July 2019
- Ovranette – expected out of stock from June – August 2019
- Microgynon 30 ED, Leandra and Maexeni – currently available but supplier unable to support additional demand
‘Evidence shows that when contraception is more difficult to access, unplanned pregnancies can result.’
Even missing out on one Pill can have consequences, particularly if it is at the end or beginning of a cycle.
Karin O’Sullivan, clinical consultant at the Family Planning Association, previously told MailOnline it ‘wakes the ovaries up’ and they may ovulate.
BPAS advises women to speak to their GP to find a suitable alternative to their usual pill – normally one that has the same hormones.
This can be unsettling for women who have tried different birth control methods and settled on one brand that suits them without side effects.
The other option is to start a completely different method of birth control – such as the copper coil, implant or minipill – all of which come with potential side effects including headaches, nausea and mood swings.
Brands are advising GPs to be careful with switching pills because some alternative suppliers are unable to support the demand.
Bayer has told the Department of Health and Social Care that Ovranette, a combined hormone contraceptive, is expected to be out of stock until August.
A few alternatives have said they will not able to fill the gaps, including Microgynon 30 ED, supplied by Bayer, Leandra, supplied by MedRx, and Maexeni, supplied by Lupin.
Many female patients have revealed they have been given a prescription only to find out their pill is out of stock when they go to collect it at the pharmacy.
GPs may be unaware of the shortages and continue to prescribe pills which aren’t available, infuriating patients.
Moya Crockett, a contributing editor at Stylist, exposed the ‘contraceptive admin’ women are experiencing in recent months.
In response to her tweet, which has now gone viral, thousands of women expressed their anger at going ‘on a wild goose chase’ to get the Pill.
With GP waiting times at a record high, women have been forced to pay the full price at pharmacies such as Superdrug.
Women on Loestrin need to fork out £30 for a six month supply from Superdrug Online Doctor, or £25 for Ovranette.
Dr Anne Connolly, of the Primary Care Women’s Health Forum, warned a lack of birth control is more ‘high risk’ than HRT drugs due to the risk of unwanted pregnancies.
She said: ‘If you cannot get HRT it may be unpleasant but if women are unable to find a contraceptive that suits them it can result in unwanted pregnancies.
‘At this stage it is not clear how much of an issue this will become or when it may end.
The DHSC said: ‘We are aware there are supply issues affecting a small number of oral contraceptive pills due to manufacturing delays.
‘We are working closely with the affected suppliers to resolve these problems as quickly as possible.
‘Supplies of several other oral contraceptives are freely available and patients affected should discuss alternative options with their clinician or pharmacist as soon as possible.’
HRT CRISIS FORCING WOMEN TO SEEK TREATMENT ABROAD
Women have been forced into buying HRT medication from abroad as it is now almost impossible to get in Britain.
Shortages have been going on for months but reached ‘crisis point’ this week as most Evorel patches – the UK market leader – disappeared from the shelves.
Many alternatives were already out of stock and the two main pharmaceutical wholesalers have completely run out of all commonly-prescribed HRT patches, according to an audit seen by the Daily Mail.
Manufacturers are rationing what little stock they have with the support of the Department of Health, which has been slammed for its ‘disastrous’ handling of the crisis.
Some women have been buying boxes for their friends from pharmacies while on holiday in Spain. One patient has even been air-freighting HRT from South Africa.
Around two-thirds of HRT treatments have been hit by shortages. They include Evorel and Elleste, the two most popular brands, which are prescribed to upwards of 100,000 women a year – more than half of those on the treatment.
More than half of women on HRT are prescribed patches, which are applied once or twice a week below the waist.