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DH’s HRT taskforce to disband as pharmacists report persistent supply issues

A government taskforce dedicated to easing the supply of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs is set to be disbanded, despite reports from pharmacists and menopause campaigners that some products are still difficult to come by.

The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) taskforce has introduced a number of measures to alleviate supply problems in the UK since its formation earlier this year, including issuing and extending 12 serious shortage protocols (SSPs) for HRT products.

Read more: 12 SSPs for HRT products extended as supply woes continue

Access to products such as Oestrogel gel have seen “a very substantial increase”, as the number of packs delivered to the UK in July were “double the monthly average for the first quarter this year”, the DH said this week (August 30).

Ordering in additional stock and “expediting” deliveries for products experiencing supply issues had also helped improve availability, it said.


“Inconsistent” supply


However, some pharmacists told C+D earlier this week that they were still struggling to access HRT products, as well as a host of additional medicines, as shortages become more acute.

Merseyside-based community pharmacist and contractor Waqas Ahmad and the director or Cumbria-based pharmacy JWW Allison Nat Mitchell both namechecked HRT products among the litany of medicines they are finding it difficult to get hold of.

Pharmacist and National Pharmacy Association board member Amish Patel told C+D that the supply of some HRT patches is still inconsistent.

Read more: ‘Worse than ever’: Which medicines are pharmacists struggling to stock?

However, he conceded that HRT supplies “have improved in general”, with stocks of Oestrogel noticeably better.

Meanwhile, superintendent pharmacist at Evergreen Pharmacy, Rifat Asghar-Hussain, echoed Mr Patel in saying that HRT product supply had improved.


Women feeling “neglected”


The head of the HRT taskforce, Madelaine McTernan, has now returned to working full time leading the national vaccination taskforce in preparation for the autumn booster campaign, the DH revealed yesterday.

C+D understands there the DH has no plans to fill Ms McTernan’s post.

Labour MP Carolyn Harris this morning (September 1) hit out at Ms Mc Ternan’s departure, claiming on Twitter that menopausal women struggling to get hold of HRT medication were “being treated like second class citizens and feel neglected by the HRT tsar leaving midway through this crisis”.



Ms Harris made headlines in May, when she pledged to “name and shame” some online pharmacies whose hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication prices she claimed had risen amid product shortages.


HRT SSPs to be used “when necessary”


In the meantime, Ms McTernan has shared “key” recommendations to ease future HRT supply in the UK, which will be “taken forward” by DH to ensure product supply continues to meet demand.

She recommended that SSPs continued to be issued for HRT products “when appropriate”.

C+D reported earlier this month that SSPs for 12 HRT products would remain in place until the end of October amid continued supply chain disruption.

These SSPs are currently still due to expire in October, C+D understands.

The outgoing HRT taskforce head also suggested that the DH continues to hold “regular industry roundtables” and assess “whether NHS formularies may be impacting access to HRT”.

The DH should also work to improve “access to data on prescriptions to more easily see where there are shortfalls between HRT packs prescribed and HRT packs supplied by manufacturers”, she advised.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee director Gordon Hockey told C+D yesterday that while the negotiator “supported the ongoing use of SSPs where they help pharmacies to manage supplies”, it continued to push the government “for wider solutions to the medicines market shocks that are currently having a very serious impact on pharmacy teams’ workloads”. 


Recommendations “a step forward”


Mr Patel described Ms McTernan’s recommendations as “a step forward”.

He noted the government’s plan to implement a yearly one-off charge system for HRT medication from April 2023.

Mr Patel wondered whether the system could “be extended to all electronic repeat dispensing” (eRD).

“A general push for eRD adoption by GP surgeries [could] help with general supply issues being faced beyond HRT,” he added.

C+D reported in June that Besins Healthcare had acquired a pharmaceutical manufacturing site in Belgium to help it increase its supply of Oestrogel to the UK and meet the extraordinary demand for HRT products.

At the time, a company spokesperson told C+D it expected the “boosted supplies” from the new site to reach the UK in August.

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