HRT access is postcode lottery, health minister admits

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HRT access is postcode lottery, health minister admits – with some GPs unaware they can even prescribe treatment

  • Minister told MPs patients getting ‘very different service’ in different areas of UK
  • Plans to cut prescription costs for HRT will now be delayed until April next year
  • Labour MP ‘really annoyed’ by the delay, arguing some women already suicidal

Women face a postcode lottery of menopause care with some GPs unaware they can even prescribe HRT, a health minister admitted.

Maria Caulfield told MPs that standards are a ‘bit hit and miss’, with patients in different parts of the country getting a ‘very different service’.

She also sparked fury by revealing plans to cut prescription costs for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by up to £200 a year will not come into effect until next April.

The Department of Health announced in October that women would be able to get a year’s supply of an HRT drug for £9.35, the cost of a single NHS prescription.

The announcement followed a high-profile campaign supported by celebrities including Penny Lancaster and Davina McCall.

However, Miss Caulfied yesterday told the Commons women and equalities committee that technical issues meant the ‘prepayment certificate’ for HRT could not be implemented for over a year.

Carolyn Harris, a Labour MP who sits on the committee and has called for HRT to be made available for free, said she was ‘really, really, really annoyed’ by the delay and warned many women suffering severe menopausal symptoms cannot afford the current costs, with some becoming suicidal.

The Department of Health announced in October that women would be able to get a year's supply of an HRT drug for £9.35, the cost of a single NHS prescription. (stock image)

The Department of Health announced in October that women would be able to get a year’s supply of an HRT drug for £9.35, the cost of a single NHS prescription. (stock image)

The new system, to be implemented next year, would allow a woman to pay a one-off annual fee and collect the HRT each month without needing to see their GP. (stock image)

The new system, to be implemented next year, would allow a woman to pay a one-off annual fee and collect the HRT each month without needing to see their GP. (stock image)

Around 1.5 million women a year experience post-menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbance and mood swings. 

Of those, around 150,000 are prescribed HRT tablets, gels, creams or patches.

Current guidelines allow GPs to issue a year’s worth of HRT on a single prescription, fuelling ongoing supply shortages that have led to a black market trade.

The new system, to be implemented next year, would allow a woman to pay a one-off annual fee and collect the HRT each month without needing to see their GP.

Anne Connolly, of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘Women’s health is a key part of [our] curriculum, which all GPs must demonstrate competence of in order to practise independently in the UK.’

IS THERE ANY RISK USING HRT FOR WOMEN GOING THROUGH MENOPAUSE?

Menopause, which commonly strikes women in their late 40s and early 50s, can cause depression, hot flushes, headaches and night sweats. Long term, it can also cause bone disease and memory loss.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) tackles these symptoms by replacing the female sex hormones – oestrogen and progestogen – as the body stops producing them.

But while it can transform the lives of many women, studies have shown that there may be an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease from HRT. As a result, many women no longer accept HRT treatment and some doctors will not prescribe it.

It was however noted by the Woman’s Health Concern (WHC) that one of the American studies used women in their mid-sixties who were often overweight as subjects, and these are unrepresentative of women in the UK.

Furthermore, a controlled trial from Denmark reported in 2012 has demonstrated that healthy women taking combined HRT for 10 years immediately after the menopause had a reduced risk of heart disease and of dying from heart disease, contradicting the reports of the earlier studies.

The WHC says HRT is safe provided it is taken for the correct reasons, i.e. to alleviate the symptoms of the menopause, and at the minimum effective dose. 

Source: WHC 

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