The government has been aware of the national shortage of a popular HRT drug since last October but was too focused on Covid to take action, it has been suggested by one manufacturing firm.

Theramex, which produces HRT gels, warned the Department of Health about the crisis in October 2021. 

However, a lack of forward planning has meant thousands of women have been left without Oestrogel, the most popular HRT treatment, and have had to resort to rationing their prescriptions or buying it on the black market instead. 

This is due to the surge in demand for HRT, with prescriptions increasing by 38 per cent over the last seven years. It has even more than doubled since 2017, according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.  

Tina Blackhouse, UK general manager of Theramex, spoke to The Telegraph about the serious issue, saying: “The problem was, all people wanted to talk about then was Covid.”

The government was also reminded of the shortage of Oestrogel in February but warnings seemingly went unheeded. 

As a result of NHS red tape, pharmacists are not allowed to prescribe alternative products and patients need to request new prescriptions from their GP first. 

Consequently, many of the 30,000 women who rely on Oestrogel to manage their symptoms of menopause, such as night sweats, mood swings and hot flushes, have faced serious problems accessing it over the last few months. 

Theramex, for example, manufactures an alternative to Oestrogel called Bijuve, but it is only available in certain areas of the country. 

Drugs in the UK are currently only approved at a local, rather than a national, level, and NHS formulary committees are ‘two years’ behind when it comes to giving the go ahead to new medications, according to Ms Blackhouse. 

Consequently, there are boxes of Theramex that are not being used, in spite of the huge demand for HRT treatments. 

Even if manufacturing capacity was increased now, it will take several months to be implemented. Therefore, it seems that more must be done in the short-term to ensure menopausal women are receiving adequate treatment for their symptoms. 

Last week, the government hired Madeleine McTernan to be its HRT Supply Taskforce to resolve the problem. 

Health secretary Sajid Javid said: “[Ms McTernan] will use her excellent skills and expertise to build on the success of the Vaccine Taskforce to bolster supply of vital medicines to women across the country.”

The first action she implemented was to limit prescriptions of Oestrogel to a three-month supply to ration the product. 

Together with Mr Javid, Ms McTernan has called manufacturers of alternative medications for a meeting to ease the supply-demand problem.

Maria Caulfied, minister for Women’s Health, said: “The new taskforce will play a vital role engaging with suppliers, stakeholders and across government to make sure every avenue is explored to ensure all women who want HRT can access it.”

She noted that HRT is essential in alleviating “debilitating” signs of menopause, “allowing [women] to stay in workplaces and live more normal lives”. 

Indeed, a documentary presented by Davina McCall called Sex, Myths & The Menopause, which was aired earlier this week, revealed that 44 per cent of women in employment claim their work has been affected by menopausal symptoms and one in ten have quit their jobs as a result. 

When the government increases supply of HRT drugs, pharmaceuticals wholesalers can help distribute the drug as quickly as possible to those who need it.