Cork woman calls 23 pharmacies looking for essential hormone drugs

Shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs have hit menopausal women yet again, with one woman in Cork contacting 23 pharmacies before finding the product she needed.

Out-of-stock products include Estradot patches, which aren’t expected until July, and Estrogel pump gel, which isn’t expected to return to shelves until the end of the month.

Jessica Ni Mhaoláin, 30, said she was frustrated with the irregular supply of some HRT drugs.

“I called loads of chemists, just to see who had it — 23 different chemists,” she said, referring to Oestrogel.

“I called some of the channels because surely you would say they would have access, but they had nothing at all.

“I’m following what’s going on, and I know some pharmacists might get the patches back, but they only get one dosage.

A woman might need to use two different patches or cut one patch in half. It’s ridiculous.”

Her symptoms include severe migraines, crippling anxiety, and other physical symptoms that only HRT can treat.

It is the second time she has faced HRT shortages, having had to rely on her father to transport supplies from London under similar circumstances in 2019.

She has long experience of the difficulties women have in accessing health care following a late diagnosis of endometriosis in their late twenties.

A series of complications led to her being told she needed a hysterectomy at the unusually young age of 27, for which she had to travel to London after undergoing three related surgeries in Ireland.

She finally overcame this month’s shortages when she tracked down Oestrogel at a Dublin pharmacy that imports products directly from France.

Jessica Ní Mhaoláin, Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane and Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew at the launch of a party policy paper on menopause at the Buswells Hotel, Dublin in March. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

“She said she could guarantee the supply for the next two months,” said Ms Ni Mhaoláin, Sinn Féin councilor TD Martin Kenny. “It was bad enough that I had to leave the country for the operation, it doesn’t matter now I have to leave for the medicine.”

Sallyanne Brady, founder of Facebook group The Irish Menopause, said many of their 30,000 members were worried about shortages despite recent welcome improvements to menopause care in Ireland.

“Don’t panic,” she said.

Get an alternative, even if it’s for the short term. Women think there is no HRT in Ireland – it’s not true, but it’s a nightmare. We’ve had shortages before, but this is a big shortage.

His understanding is that shortages of Estradot – a hugely popular treatment – are now having a knock-on effect on the supply of other HRT drugs.

“It’s not just in Ireland, it’s also in the UK, they’re worse off than us,” said Ms Brady, who emailed RTÉ’s Joe Duffy last year to highlight concerns about menopause treatment, which started a national conversation.

It’s totally embarrassing – doctors and pharmacists must be driven crazy with people coming back for new scripts.

On the Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority’s drug shortages page, these HRT treatments are marked as out of stock due to an “unexpected increase in demand”.

A letter from the HSE attached to the list advises doctors on how to switch women to other medicines.

The British Menopause Society issued similar advice in recent days, saying it was told by Besins Healthcare (UK) that Oestrogel should be available “soon”.

Northern Ireland’s BBC reported last week that women were swapping HRT drugs with each other to overcome shortages.

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