HRT Shortage: Your questions answered 

Whether you have lived through menopause, are yet to experience The Change or live with someone who is going through it, hormone replacement therapy has been a hot topic over the last few weeks - and for good reason. 

Headlines have reached a fever pitch with Davina McCall calling for shortages to be sorted. But, what’s really going on? 

To help you get your head around what HRT is, who (and what!) the hormone replacement therapy tsar is as well as why there’s a shortage in the first place, we’ve gotten to work to answer people’s FAQs. 

Here are quickfire answers to all the HRT questions you’ve been googling recently…

What is HRT? 

“Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment to relieve symptoms of the menopause. It replaces hormones that are at a lower level as you approach the menopause,” reads the NHS website. And, in a nutshell, that’s what the multitude of tablets, gels, skin patches and rings are designed to do.

The most popular form of HRT in the UK is tablets which can be taken once a day. Usually, women are offered a combined medication that is made up of progesterone and oestrogen, the two hormones that women stop creating after menopause. 

Why do women take HRT? 

The main reason why women take HRT is to reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, mood swings, vaginal dryness and sleep disturbances. 

Hormone replacement therapy has also been proven to improve the strength of women’s bones and reduce the risk of fractures. If you want to learn more about bone health, we also explore the effect of menopause on bones in this article.

Some women take HRT due to oestrogen deficiency or premature menopause. If you have had your ovaries removed, stopped having periods or have lost normal function of your ovaries before the age of 40, you may be offered HRT. It works to prevent health conditions including stroke, dementia, heart disease and osteoporosis. 

Why is there a shortage of hormone replacement medications?

Women who rely on gels and patches to manage their menopause are facing the biggest shortages, although other forms have been sparse in the past. The lack of HRT is being blamed on manufacturing and supply issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Oestrogel and FemSeven Sequi patches, which are both manufactured by Besins Healthcare UK, are running low. The company has reported that there are insufficient supplies to meet demand in the UK.

In 2020, 3.2 million prescriptions were issued for HRT. This is a 40% increase in comparison to 2016 figures. 

What are some alternatives to HRT?

We know how important HRT is for the well-being of women who take it. The danger of shortages is becoming increasingly evident with stories of women resorting to trading their medications, buying on the black market or scouting it out on social media. 

Despite this, the government have not set a clear timeline on when shortages will be solved so using some alternatives might help you along the way. If you are finding it hard to get your hands on HRT, we have covered loads of alternatives in this handy guide.

Is HRT being rationed?

Short answer, yes. Last week, the government restricted the amount of HRT that women have access to at any one time. 

Women in the UK will only be able to obtain three months' worth of hormone replacement therapy at any one time. The limit is being enforced on ​​Oestrogel, Ovestin cream and some Premique tablets.

What is a political tsar and who is Madelaine McTernan?

A tsar is a title given to a particular person in government who has power over a certain area of policy. They are often granted more power to remedy particular issues. 

Last month, Madelaine McTernan was named the HRT tsar to help deal with the UK supply shortage. Appointed by Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid, McTernan has previously been working on the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out. It’s thought that she will be able to apply this previous experience with supply chains to remedy the crisis.

If you need some extra support for your menopause, our mymenopause support programme is full of practical, actionable advice for people going through menopause. Sign up today! 

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 27 April 2022
Next review: 27 April 2025