MP to 'name and shame' online pharmacies over HRT drug prices
Labour MP Carolyn Harris will “name and shame” some online pharmacies whose hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication prices she claims have risen amid product shortages, she has told C+D.
Although HRT product shortages are nothing new, increased media coverage of menopause and surges in demand for the drugs have squeezed supply to UK pharmacies in recent months.
Speaking to The Telegraph, the Labour MP claimed some online pharmacies are selling HRT products for “three times as much as they’re worth”.
She claims to have paid £62 for four 80g packs of Oestrogel through a private prescription service last month, whereas one pack obtained via an NHS prescription would typically cost £9.35.
“Horrified” at price increases
Ms Harris told C+D today (May 3) she was “horrified” when she saw the price of HRT products from some online pharmacies, alleging that some had increased these “in line with the shortages of availability in the NHS”.
“I will be investigating the costs online and intend to name and shame those who have chosen to profit from their customers’ desperation,” she said.
She told The Telegraph she intended “to write to the pharmacies” that had allegedly increased prices for their HRT products.
She said she would also make health secretary Sajid Javid aware of this situation ahead of his meeting on Thursday with HRT manufacturers and the new HRT supply tsar, Madeleine McTernan – who was appointed last week.
“I am already angry that the shortages have been allowed to happen,” Ms Harris told C+D.
“This just means that once again only those with enough disposable income can afford to treat their symptoms – and that just isn’t right or fair,” she said.
The MP’s inboxes across social media platforms are “filling up” with messages from women who have been sharing their experience of sourcing these medications, she said.
“Women have become so fearful at the thought of not being able to fulfil their prescriptions,” she said.
How much are HRT drugs being sold for?
A screenshot shared with Ms Harris appeared to show that one online pharmacy is advertising a 80g pack of Oestrogel for £58.98.
Meanwhile, Boots Online Doctor is advertising a 240g gel pack of Oestrogel for £80, The Telegraph reported. However, this price point includes a GP consultation fee, a prescription medicine for patients who need one, and “after-care and support”, the multiple told C+D.
C+D understands that Boots has not raised its pricing for the service since it launched.
A Boots spokesperson said the multiple “remains in regular contact with suppliers so we can manage [product shortages] as effectively as possible”. Boots “does not prioritise medicines for private patients over others”, and both private and NHS patients are currently being affected by HRT shortages, they said.
A national formulary for HRT
The Labour MP has also called for the health secretary to cut “the red tape” around NHS medicine formularies, which operate under a postcode lottery system.
Pharmacies cannot supply alternative HRT products in certain parts of the country unless these are first approved by their local clinical commissioning group.
Ms Harris called for a national formulary that would allow pharmacists to prescribe whichever HRT products are available in the case of shortages, without having to wait for local approval.
Last week, the DH issued serious shortage protocols for Oestrogel, Ovestin cream and Premique Low Dose, to allow community pharmacists to supply them according to the protocol rather than the written prescription – thus removing the need to seek authorisation from the prescriber.
Further information on the availability of HRT products and guidance can be accessed via the Specialist Pharmacy Service.