There was a 35% increase in prescribing of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) last year, according to a report from the NHS Business Services Authority.
Figures also showed that almost half a million more women were prescribed at least one HRT medicine in 2021/22.
An analysis of prescription data showed 7.8 million HRT items prescribed for menopause to 1.93 million identified patients, up from 5.9 million items for 1.48 million patients the previous year.
The report was compiled to support work being done by the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and HRT suppliers to address supply chain issues and taboos around the topic, NHSBSA said.
A graph going back to 2015/16 shows a steady increase in prescribing for HRT over time before flattening off during the start of the pandemic before hitting a steep rise in prescribing.
The figures also show that from April to June 2022 there were 2.57 million HRT drug items prescribed – 55.8% increase from the same period in the previous year.
But there were stark differences when the figures were looked at by deprivation with almost twice as many patients receiving prescribing in the least deprived areas of the country compared to the most deprived, NHSBSA said.
Overall prescribing was most common in patients aged 50 to 54 years the data showed.
The figures may not be representative of all patients taking HRT because Gina 10 microgram vaginal tablets now available from the pharmacy without a prescription but over-the-counter medicines data is not collected by the NHSBSA.
‘There are over 70 HRT products available in the UK and while most remain in good supply, a range of factors including an increase in demand has led to supply issues with a limited number of products,’ the report noted.
‘The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) continues to work closely with suppliers and other stakeholders to maintain overall HRT supply to patients across the UK.
‘This includes working to expedite resupply dates of the disrupted HRT products to resolve issues as soon as possible and to help fill supply gaps and prevent future shortages.’
It continued: ‘Access to in-demand products has improved since Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) were issued to limit dispensing to three months’ supply to even out distribution and allow alternative products to be dispensed, as necessary.’
In the longer term, the NHSBSA said suppliers were taking steps to further build capacity and increase production.
A report from the Government’s HRT taskforce in September said Oestrogel supply had improved but HRT products were still in short supply.
In summer the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee recommended that GPs need mandatory menopause training and targeted communications around the HRT scheme.
The committee of MPs has recommended that the menopause is be given ‘more priority’ in initial training for GPs and a ‘mandatory aspect’ of continuing GP professional development.