Around 400,000 women across England will get better access to menopause support – saving hundreds of pounds and making treatment more accessible.
From 1 April 2023, women prescribed Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – the main treatment for menopause symptoms – will have access to a new scheme enabling access to a year’s worth of menopause prescription items for the cost of two single prescription charges (currently £18.70).
Following government commitments to reduce the cost of HRT for menopausal women, the PPC will be valid for 12 months. It can be used against a list of HRT prescription items, and a patient can use this against an unlimited number of HRT items, such as patches, tablets and topical preparations. There will be no limit to how many times the certificate can be used while it is valid.
Campaigner and MP, Carolyn Harris who introduced the Private Members Bill 500 days ago that pushed for the changes today highlighted the ongoing problems in respect of access to HRT.
HRT supply chain problems
Following widespread criticism of government’s handling of HRT supply chain issues, they are keen to highlight that reducing the cost of HRT is just one of the steps being taken by the Government to improve access to HRT. Alongside continuing work with suppliers to encourage and support them to boost supply to meet growing demand.
On the media round Minister for Women, Maria Caulfield told Times Radio that the department engages with suppliers on a weekly basis, and “closely monitors the supply of HRT”.
She said that the Government’s approach could be seen “as a failure of own success” given the increases in demand.
The Department later reassured that they hold regularly meets with individual suppliers, including hosting quarterly roundtables with industry to ensure a continuous supply of HRT.
Delivering the Women’s Health Strategy for England
The introduction of the certificate was committed to in the first year of the Women’s Health Strategy for England. Published last summer, the strategy set out a plan for improving the health and wellbeing of women and girls and to change the way the health and care system listens to women. Menopause was announced as a priority area within the strategy.
Commenting on the new certificates, Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:
“This new certificate will make HRT more accessible than ever before – helping around 400,000 women save hundreds of pounds a year.
“This is another step in our drive to improve support for millions of women experiencing the menopause, delivering on our Women’s Health Strategy.”
Minister for Women, Maria Caufield, said: “Around three-quarters of women will experience menopause symptoms, with a quarter experiencing severe symptoms – which can seriously impact their quality of life.
“Reducing the cost of HRT is a huge moment for improving women’s health in this country, and I am proud to be announcing this momentous step forward.
“In our Women’s Health Strategy, we made menopause a top priority. By making HRT more accessible, we’re delivering on our commitment to women.”
Women’s Health Ambassador, Dame Lesley Regan said:
“The menopause is an inevitable stage in a woman’s life course. As a gynaecologist, I’ve witnessed first-hand the symptoms that women experience, which can have debilitating impacts on their daily lives.
“Making HRT more affordable will have a hugely beneficial impact on the lives of so many women. This prepayment certificate is a major step forward in prioritising the health and wellbeing of women.
“Around 15% of women aged 45 to 64 in England are currently prescribed HRT, which has increased rapidly in the last two years from around 11% and continues to increase.”
How the PPC will work
Last year, the Government accepted the recommendations of the HRT Taskforce, including encouraging and supporting manufacturers to boost supply to meet growing demand and continuing to issue serious shortage protocols (SSPs) when needed to even out distribution. This involved allowing alternative products to be dispensed when necessary and reducing the need for the patient to return to their GP.
Women will need to apply for the PPC through the NHS Business Services Authority or in person at a pharmacy registered to sell PPCs.
Once it has been granted, it will be available for use immediately on or after 1 April 2023. When collecting HRT products, patients will be able to simply show the digital or paper copy HRT PPC to the pharmacist and complete the exemption declaration on the NHS prescription form.
President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Ranee Thakar said: “We know that cost can be one of the barriers that women face in accessing treatment to manage their symptoms during menopause, and the introduction of HRT PPCs is a positive step to improve access to HRT.
“This announcement is an important first step, and we hope that more will be done to address the challenges and inequalities faced in accessing menopause care and treatment.”
President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, “Dr Janet Barter” said: “We welcome the introduction of HRT PPCs by the Department of Health and Social Care. This is a big step towards improving women’s access to menopause treatment in England and reducing inequalities in access to this essential healthcare.
“Improved access to HRT will improve the lives of millions of women, allowing them to easily take control of their own menopause.”
CEO of Wellbeing of Women, Janet Lindsay said: “HRT is a first line treatment for women who may need help with managing menopause symptoms which can be debilitating. Improving access to HRT, by reducing the prescription costs, is absolutely the right thing to do and will help to empower women during this life stage.”
Find out more
The HRT PPC is in addition to the existing help with prescription charges, including the 3 and 12 month PPCs.
For people who need multiple medicines, the existing PPCs may remain a more cost-effective method of paying for prescriptions.
To find out which HRT items are in scope for the HRT-only PPC (as of 21 February 2023) click here.
The supply chain issues affecting HRT is a real concern to thousands of women.
This is not a new problem, warnings about shortages were already being raised before the pandemic – the challenge has only grown since the pandemic.
It is pretty obvious that the Government has decided to announce the PPC as there seems to be little progress being made on the access to HRT. Costs will undoubtedly reduce, but that is little benefit when they cannot be found in the first place.
More must be done to prioritise women’s access to healthcare services and medication. New manufacturing capacity must be created and urgently.
Although this is not a unique issue to the UK, this will heap further pressure on the Government when they are defending the impact of Brexit.