Hormonal drug shortages in UK ‘harming women’, say doctors

Pfizer's Sayana Press

UK doctors are calling on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to investigate shortages of  hormone replacement therapy and contraceptive drugs that have been affecting ‘thousands of women’ in the UK for at least a year.

The problem was initially seen with HRT drugs but more recently with contraceptives, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the British Menopause Society (BMS) and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH).

The issue seems to be unique to the UK, the expert bodies suggest in a letter to Hancock, who has said he will look into the matter.

Among the contraceptives in short supply is Pfizer’s Sayana Press (medroxyprogesterone acetate), which women self-inject every 13 weeks, they note.

The shortages are causing “distress for clinicians, patients and pharmacists”, they say, adding this could lead to a rise in unplanned pregnancies and abortions, “affecting the most vulnerable in our society.”

FSRH president Dr Asha Kasliwal says women are being sent away with prescriptions for unavailable products and end up “lost in a system that is frustrating to navigate. This is causing utter chaos for patients, clinicians and pharmacists.”

At the moment, the reasons for the shortages don’t seem to be clear, although they have been attributed initially to manufacturing and supply issues.

Some reports suggest the problem relates to supply constraints for the hormonal ingredients used in the drugs, but if that is the case it does not explain why the UK is disproportionately affected, as claimed by the doctors and patient groups.

RCOG president Dr Edward Morris has said the HRT supply situation should begin to improve from this month as products which supply more than two-thirds of the HRT patch market will be re-introduced in the UK.

That said, “a number of HRT medications and contraceptives remain unavailable, some until the end of this year, and some with no timeline as to when they will be back on the market.”

Pfizer says on a UK Sayana Press website that it is experiencing an “interruption” in the supply of the product and isn’t able to say when it will be back in stock.

The organisations are angry at a lack of transparency on the reasons for the crisis, and have asked the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to set up a working group “with industry, regulatory agencies and our organisations” to get to the bottom of it.

“This working group must work together to ensure that this situation is prevented from happening again,” they insist.