The head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has been appointed to a new unit set up to help tackle the shortage in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, announced Madelaine McTernan will lead the new HRT taskforce. It is hoped the lessons from supplying millions of coronavirus vaccines rapidly throughout the UK can be applied to HRT product shortages, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) ministers said.
McTernan said: “We will apply the key learnings from the successful way the vaccine taskforce have procured life-saving vaccines during the pandemic to help ensure women have reliable ongoing access to these critical medicines.”
The move comes as demand for HRT products in the UK has grown over the past few years, due to increased menopause awareness and GP confidence in prescribing treatments. HRT can help alleviate severe symptoms of menopause including hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
But DHSC says the increase in demand is also one of the factors causing shortages among a small number of products, including Oestrogel – an ointment containing oestrogen that is rubbed into the skin.
DHSC says the HRT taskforce will work closely with suppliers to understand what is causing the issues. It will then develop plans to ensure both short- and long-term supply meet rising demand.
The team will also work with the NHS Business Services Authority to gather data, with the aim of improving understanding of supply and demand as well as what is driving shortages. It will also engage health bodies to ensure they respond to the increased demand.
Javid said: “I understand how much women rely on HRT, which is why we will leave no stone unturned to help make sure women can get the HRT they need. That is why I have taken decisive action to appoint Madelaine McTernan to head of the HRT taskforce … to build on the success of the vaccine taskforce to bolster supply of vital medicines to women across the country.” HRT isn’t a ‘lifestyle drug’. For women like me, these UK shortages are a disaster”
Maria Caulfield, minister for women’s health, said: “It’s great we’ve seen demand for HRT rise so much over the last year as it means women are accessing the right support. HRT can help women manage severe, sometimes debilitating, symptoms of the menopause, allowing them to stay in workplaces and live more normal lives.
“I want all women to feel empowered to speak to their GP about whether HRT would be appropriate for them, and for GPs to feel confident in prescribing.
“The new taskforce will play a vital role engaging with suppliers, stakeholders and across government to make sure every avenue is explored to ensure all women who want HRT can access it.”