Ministers limit hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms to prescriptions for two months as the supplier struggles to meet growing demand.
Utrozhestan’s supply is expected to be sporadic until late this year, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Officials said its manufacturer, Bisens, was increasing supply but was still unable to fill the gap.
On Friday, the government issued a Serious Shortage Protocol (SSP) for Utrogestan 100mg capsules. Pharmacists can dispense up to two months’ supply per prescription so that women undergoing HRT can continue to receive treatment.
The DHSC said SSPs are a frequently published standard procedure for managing and preventing temporary drug supply issues.
Women’s Minister Maria Caulfield said: “Today’s decisive action will mean more women will have access to this medicine, and I would like to reassure women that the vast majority of HRT products are well available.”
“The overall supply of HRT products has improved significantly over the past year, and I am encouraged by how the industry has responded to growth in demand and our continued calls for action to enhance supply to meet that.”
“We continue to work to help ensure continuity of supply – an essential part of increasing support for perimenopausal and menopausal women and improving their quality of life,” Caulfield added.
While 22 SSPs have been issued for HRT products since April last year – when Britain experienced severe shortages – the DHS said only two had not stayed in place: Friday’s order for Utrogestan and the other for Progynova 100mcg patches.
An official said that some HRT drugs have been added to the list of products that cannot be exported or stored in the UK to ensure adequate supplies remain available for patients.
The HRT crisis in the past year has prompted some women to turn to the black market or meet with other women to buy, exchange or share medicines.
Last month, health officials apologized after women were unable to obtain cheaper prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy under a scheme designed to lower prescription costs.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates that around one million women in the UK use the treatment for menopausal symptoms.
HRT boosts levels of hormones — especially estrogen — that subside as women age toward menopause. In the process, HRT relieves many of the symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness, according to the NHS. NICE reports that about 80% of women going through menopause experience these symptoms.
In January, the government partly rejected a proposal by the Cross-Party Commission for Women and Equality to make menopause a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act because of concerns that it might discriminate against men.