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Women are flocking to private clinics to secure menopause medication amid HRT crisis in NHS

Women are flocking to private clinics to secure menopause medication amid HRT crisis in NHS

  • Experts say many women feel dismissed by NHS GPs who say they’re ‘too young’
  • One private practice seeing 4,000 patients a month, up from 300 in 18 months
  • GPs are under growing pressure due to  national shortage of HRT, used by 30,000 women in the UK to help manage debilitating symptoms of menopause

Private menopause clinics are seeing ten times as many patients as they were 18 months ago as women desperately try to access HRT medication.

Experts said many women feel dismissed by NHS GPs who tell them they are ‘too young’ to be going through the menopause or wrongly diagnose them with depression.

Many research HRT online and choose to seek treatment at private clinics due to delays in getting prescriptions and waits of around a year for an appointment with an NHS specialist.

One private practice is seeing 4,000 patients a month – up from 300 in just a year and a half.

GPs are under growing pressure due to a national shortage of HRT, particularly Oestrogel, which is used by around 30,000 women in the UK to help manage debilitating symptoms of the menopause.

Private menopause clinics are seeing ten times as many patients as they were 18 months ago as women desperately try to access HRT medication.

GPs are under growing pressure due to a national shortage of HRT, particularly Oestrogel (pictured), which is used by around 30,000 women in the UK to help manage debilitating symptoms of the menopause

GPs are under growing pressure due to a national shortage of HRT, particularly Oestrogel (pictured), which is used by around 30,000 women in the UK to help manage debilitating symptoms of the menopause 

Supply woes are an ‘insult’

Freelance book editor Kerri Sharp (pictured) had to pay £42 online for a month’s supply of Oestrogel after failing to find any at 12 pharmacies across London

Freelance book editor Kerri Sharp (pictured) had to pay £42 online for a month’s supply of Oestrogel after failing to find any at 12 pharmacies across London

Freelance book editor Kerri Sharp had to pay £42 online for a month’s supply of Oestrogel after failing to find any at 12 pharmacies across London.

Miss Sharp, 61, who would normally get her prescription free because she is over 60, said several pharmacists told her they had seen up to 50 women who had been prescribed the HRT medication but were unable to get it.

She tried at least five online pharmacies before finding one that was rationing the oestrogen gel to a pack per order.

Miss Sharp, from Forest Hill, south-east London, said: ‘These are seriously debilitating issues that can affect your daily life.

‘It’s an insult and it needs to be sorted out.’

The British Menopause Society has advised doctors to consider alternative medication, including Sandrena gel and Lenzetto spray.

The Daily Mail launched a HRT manifesto on Saturday calling for changes including making it mandatory for medical students to be taught about the menopause and for women to be given menopause information at NHS health checks.

Women must ask GPs for a new prescription when they cannot access medication.

Jane Pangbourne of the HRT Truth Collective said: ‘GPs are under pressure because they don’t understand menopause and HRT in the sense that they haven’t been trained.

‘I’m not blaming GPs at all. They’ve been left hung out to dry in a lot of cases because they’ve been given misinformation or no information about HRT, so there’s extra pressure on them to provide a solution to these poor women.

‘The NHS waiting lists, of course, are really long anyway for everything specialist. The menopause specialist waiting lists are sometimes over a year, so women are paying to see a private specialist and even in those cases, the waiting list can be up to six months.’

A survey of 464 women by a private online menopause centre found 30 per cent would consider seeing a private specialist because they do not feel they can access the care they need on the NHS.

Dr Louise Newson, a menopause specialist, said her waiting list of 8,000 was ‘unheard of for a private clinic’.

She added: ‘We have clearly reached crisis point.’ The GP said she is ‘appalled’ that so many women are coming to her clinic for something that ‘should be adequately managed in the NHS’.

A statement on the website of Dr Alice Scott said the GP’s private clinic has been forced to close its waiting list and is unable to make appointments for new patients due to ‘unprecedented demand’.

Dr Shirin Lakhani, a women’s health expert, said: ‘I have seen a huge increase in demand in patients coming to see me about menopause symptoms.

‘Sometimes women are told they are too young to be going through the menopause or that they don’t have the obvious symptoms, but the perimenopause can start in women in their 30s, although is more common between 40 and 45.

‘While many women are now finding the confidence to come forward to speak about their health with their GP, they are finding that their symptoms are overlooked or diminished.

‘Many are either told that this is a normal part of life and they should just put up with it until the symptoms pass, or prescribed anti-depressants to treat the associated symptoms of the menopause rather than treating the cause.’

The menopause should be treated with ‘protective’ HRT before it ‘reshapes the brain’, US researchers have said.

A study found it reduces grey matter, a major component of the central nervous system.

Hormone Replacement Therapy Q&A 

How does HRT work?

Hormone replacement therapy eases symptoms including brain fog, disturbed sleep and hot flushes by replacing hormones that are at a lower level as women approach the menopause. HRT can come in the form of patches, tablets or gels which are available on prescription through the NHS.

How much does it cost?

A single NHS prescription charge costs £9.35, or £18.70 if a woman needs two types of hormones. This is often provided on a short-term basis, meaning regular payments – once a month, or every three. The Government has pledged to make annual prescriptions available, but this won’t be implemented until next April. Many have now resorted to buying HRT for up to eight times the NHS price online.

Why is there a crisis?

NHS England data shows that prescriptions for HRT have more than doubled in five years following an increase in campaigning and media coverage. Besins Healthcare – which makes Oestrogel, used by 30,000 women in the UK – has expressed ‘regrets’ that ‘extraordinary demand’ has led to shortages. Other products have been affected as women switch to alternatives.

What can be done?

The British Menopause Society has advised women struggling to find Oestrogel to discuss other products with their GP. However, some experts have noted that women are often on a particular HRT regime that is specifically tailored to their needs.

Can the pharmacist help?

If a pharmacy is out of stock, a patient must first be referred back to their GP to be given a prescription for an alternative. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has called for pharmacists to be able to make minor changes to a prescription to provide a suitable alternative. In addition, patients face a postcode lottery as pharmacies often cannot share stock with each other.

Is it dangerous to swap your HRT medicine?

Medical professionals have warned that sharing or swapping HRT products could lead to ‘serious side effects’ that can be debilitating, not least because different products will have different dosages. Trading with others also could mean accidentally using out-of-date medicine.

When will the crisis end?

Besins has said it is doing ‘everything we can’ to increase supplies to wholesalers and pharmacies across the country. The company said it is on track to meet growing demand in June.

What are ministers doing?

The Health Secretary has appointed an HRT tsar to help tackle the crisis. Madelaine McTernan, the woman responsible for securing Covid vaccines for the UK, will lead efforts to address shortages. Sajid Javid said he will leave ‘no stone unturned’ to make sure women get the HRT they need.

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