Women will only have access to three months’ supply of certain hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products in an effort to tackle shortages across the UK.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has issued Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) to limit the dispensing of the products.
It means that Oestrogel, Ovestin cream and Premique Low Dose will be given out in limited supply to each person to “even out” the distribution.
The move is in response to concerns regarding longer prescribing cycles putting pressure on the availability of some HRT products.
However, those who already have a prescription for more than three months’ supply will not be required to pay the additional charges for treatment they cannot access, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed.
Mr Javid said: “I want to reassure women I have listened to their concerns and will not hesitate to take decisive action to ensure they can access the HRT they need.
“We will leave no stone unturned in our national mission to boost supply of HRT – and this next step will ensure women across the UK will be able to reliably access this vital medication and maintain this lifeline for millions who need it.”
Hormone therapy helps to combat menopausal symptoms, which include anxiety, joint pain, disturbed sleep and hot flushes.
The health department said the SSPs will expire on 29 July, with pharmacists expected to “use their professional judgement” in deciding how to apply them.
NHS data suggests that prescriptions for HRT have more than doubled in England over the past five years.
Some 538,000 HRT prescriptions were issued in December, compared with 238,000 in January 2017, figures from OpenPrescribing suggest.
Amidst the ongoing shortages, the firm behind popular HRT treatment Oestrogel recently said it is on track to meet growing demand.
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Besins Healthcare UK, which makes the gel, said that from June women will be able to get longer-term prescriptions and more people can start HRT as they plan to increase supplies.
Mr Javid announced on Thursday that he had appointed Madelaine McTernan, director-general of the COVID Vaccine Taskforce, to lead a new HRT taskforce, which the government said “will apply lessons it has learned from rolling out the coronavirus vaccine”.
Ms McTernan said: “This is a step in the right direction of tackling the supply issues women are facing when it comes to accessing HRT and ensuring ongoing, reliable supply.”