Women hail plans to offer HRT at chemists as over-the-counter pills could be launched in months
- Consultation launched on allowing chemists to sell HRT treatment over counter
- HRT could be made available before end of year, but only Vagifem drug initially
- The suppository tablets treat vaginal dryness caused by estrogen deficiency
Women have welcomed plans to make hormone replacement therapy available without a prescription.
The medical regulator yesterday launched a consultation on allowing chemists to sell the treatment over the counter to improve access.
About 1.5million women a year experience post-menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbance and mood swings.
Of those, about 150,000 are prescribed HRT in tablets, gels, creams or patches.
But until now, women have only been able to access the medication after a consultation with a GP and specialist.
If the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) follows through with its proposals, HRT could be available to buy before the end of the year.
The rules will initially only apply to the drug Vagifem, used to treat vaginal dryness caused by estrogen deficiency.
If the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) follows through with its proposals, HRT could be available to buy before the end of the year. (file photo)
The tablets, which are inserted into the vagina, will cost £29.99 for a pack of 24 and be sold under the new name Gina.
One pack can last up to 12 weeks, with a year’s supply costing significantly more than the same treatment on prescription.
Ministers announced in October that prescription costs for HRT would be cut by up to £200 a year.
Under that change, women can get a year’s supply of an HRT drug for the cost of a single NHS prescription, which is £9.35.
The MHRA is seeking views on making the product available over the counter to women over 50, who have not had a period for at least one year.
But if reclassified, women will still require a consultation with a pharmacist.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, co-chairman of the Menopause Taskforce and campaigner for free HRT, said: ‘Given that 80 per cent of women experiencing the menopause are suffering from vaginal dryness, the availability of topical vaginal oestrogen over the counter is a really positive move.
‘But we must remember that this is a low-level oestrogen product which treats one symptom and does not get absorbed into the body.’
She added: ‘I wouldn’t want to see all HRT products available to buy as it is essential that these are prescribed after consultation and regularly monitored by medical professionals.’
About 1.5million women a year experience post-menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbance and mood swings. (file photo)
Clare Murphy, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: ‘Pharmacy access and advice from a trained professional may well be the preferred option for some women so this is a really positive step.
‘Our concern would be that these products are affordably priced when they come to market.’ It follows years of debate over HRTs.
‘Systemic HRTs such as tablets circulate in the blood and treat hot flushes and other symptoms. Local HRTs such as Gina work directly where applied, with little absorption into the blood.
The consultation says systemic HRTs have been linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, blood clots and strokes ‘especially when used for a long time’.
It adds: ‘Although it is considered that the risk of developing these conditions with Gina is likely to be lower than with systemic HRT, this is not known for certain for most of them.’
Q&A: Everything you need to know about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – and it’s availability in the UK
What is HRT?
HRT is a treatment to relieve symptoms of the menopause. It replaces hormones that fall to a lower level as you approach the menopause. A main benefit is that it can relieve most symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings and vaginal dryness. Many pass after a few years, but can be unpleasant and HRT can offer relief.
How do you start it?
Currently you should speak to a GP if interested in starting HRT. You can usually begin as soon as you start having symptoms and will not usually need any tests first. A GP can explain different types and help you choose one that suits you. How much is it on the NHS?
A prescription for HRT in England costs £9.35, or £18.70 for the one in ten on HRT who need two types of hormones. These are often provided on a short-term basis, meaning paying every month or three months. But the Government said in October HRT prescriptions will soon be available on an annual basis, reducing the cost by between £90 and £200.
What is the new proposal?
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is consulting on making HRT available over the counter – without a prescription. It would mean women could start HRT after a consultation with a pharmacist, rather than a GP, and/or visit a pharmacist for new supplies. It would initially be restricted to women aged 50 and over, who have not had a period for at least a year.
Which HRT drug will be available over the counter?
The change would initially only apply to Vagifem, which is used to treat vaginal dryness caused by estrogen deficiency. The tablets, inserted into the vagina and not taken orally, will cost £29.99 for a pack of 24 and be sold under the name Gina. One pack can last up to 12 weeks. Initially, one tablet is used once a day for two weeks and then one tablet is used twice a week.
When will it happen?
Pills could be available over the counter in the second half of this year if the consultation progresses smoothly.