HRT shortages are in the news, but they’re far from new. I’ve been aware since Easter 2019 that women were having trouble getting their HRT and was hit myself the following July. I even outed myself the following month in the Daily Mail, followed by appearances on BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 5 and numerous local radio stations.
Six months on, it’s back in the headlines.
Foolishly, I’d thought that the publicity last summer would have created enough noise to get answers (sometimes the optimistic 50Sense over-rules the cynical old hack I am at heart.) So to see HRT shortages back on TV as if it’s something that’s just happened is disheartening (to put it in language that my mam won’t be angry with.)
Knowing that there were problems, I went to the GP early on 26 November to get a new HRT. I’d been on Evorel Sequi and it wasn’t working at all – I could feel my anxiety starting to pick up again, with all the old jitters and paranoia and anger. It got worse during my progesterone weeks and then buzz away in the background the other two, like my PMT on overdrive.
So off I went and – after telling me that “some women also need anti-depressants when they’re on HRT” – a locum GP got out his little book of HRT treatment, compared it with the online lists of what was available and prescribed FemSeven Sequi.
How HRT shortages first hit my purse
I ran down to the pharmacy next door and handed over my prescription like Charlie and his golden ticket.
“We’ve got one month’s worth,” said the assistant. “We’ll have the rest in for you in a couple of weeks.”
I’d been prepared and gone to the GP while I still had some Evorel left, so I handed over my £18, thinking I’d have enough to tide me over until they got the new supplies. It wasn’t perfect, but it was doable.
It’s now 12 February and I’m still waiting for them to get fresh supplies in.
And then hit my life
However, even getting the FemSeven made no difference at all. My depression grew so much that I had a full meltdown after losing the earrings Mr 50Sense bought me as a Christmas surprise, sobbing hysterically as I crawled around the floor of the bar where I’d noticed I’d lost them in a desperate, obsessive search.
(Boy, that’s hard to admit. Let’s see if it makes the final edit…)
Outwardly, I tried to pretend everything was okay. Inside, however, I was falling apart, thinking my boss was about to sack me at any moment, that no-one liked me, that I was useless in everything I did, ugly, fat, lazy…
And I began to think that perhaps this wasn’t menopause. Perhaps they were all right and I was depressed and just too stubborn to admit it? Perhaps all this menopause talk was in my mind to make me feel special? Perhaps I was a fake?
These were the thoughts in my mind three weeks ago, when I went to the GP and, crying, explained how bad I felt and that with the all the stress of the HRT shortages on top of everything else, I had hit the end. “I think it’s the HRT not working,” I said. “I think it’s a problem with the progesterone, but if anti-depressants are what I need then please, give me them. I just want to feel good again.”
And then he did something special.
Handing me a tissue, he said: “Let’s go right back to when it all started and tell me everything.”
So I did: the hair loss, palpitations, joint pains, itchy skin, anger, rage, tears, paranoia, the deep, deep misery that had me longing to leave everything and everyone behind.
He listened, nodded, empathised and explained I needed a constant release of both oestrogen and progesterone so I wasn’t hit with one or the other. So an oestrogen gel to apply every day and either the Mirena coil or an implant for the progesterone. He would arrange for Dr Z, who does the implants, to call me to arrange an appointment to get it done.
Finally, almost a year after I saw Haitham Hamoda from the British Menopause Society and he told me this was what I needed, a GP in my own practice was saying the same thing.
I wasn’t going crazy.
I went home buzzing.
And the bad…
Dr Z phoned a little over a week later, at 7:55pm.
By 7:56:30pm she’d asked me if I’d considered anti-depressants.
That wasn’t all. I was also told that:
- she didn’t think I was the right age for a coil – but she didn’t know the right age and “I can’t find it on the website”, to a backdrop of fingers clicking on a keyboard;
- to look on the NHS website and find out more about menopause (why she thought I needed this after going to the GP about this very subject for the last 18 months I’m not quite sure);
- HRT shortages had also hit oestrogen gel;
- the guidelines say HRT is for physical symptoms only, and
- she was going on a course about this at the weekend, so would call back after that.
Now I can see you all waiting with baited breath for me to haul Dr Z over the coals for utter rubbish that could be disproved after two seconds looking at the NICE guidelines on prescribing HRT and for trying to overturn her colleague’s diagnosis in a two-minute phone call.
Truth is, I put the phone down and cried. I was exhausted and too tired to have the fight one more time.
And I’m sorry for all the women I let down because I should have blasted her. I should have, but I couldn’t. All I could do was cry as I watched my hope that finally I may feel good disappear.
Time to fight
That lasted all of 12 hours. By the next morning, I was messaging my boss to ask if I could work from home the following work day so I could go to the GP and get this sorted.
I have a great boss.
“Course, is everything okay? Do you need any time?” he wrote.
“Nope, I just need to kick ass,” I replied.
I felt sorry for my nice GP when I saw him a few days later and laid into how ignorant Dr Z had been. Good man that he is, we came up with a plan B that I was happy with, although that involved referrals to a gynae clinic and I was looking at at least a 12-week wait.
A week later, I received a call from the GP’s secretary and he’d managed to get me a referral for the end of February.
He can never retire or leave my GP practice.
What the HRT shortage is doing to women
That has still left me without HRT*. My last dose was over a week ago and since then, I’ve been hit hard: insomnia, itchiness, the ever-present anxiety and paranoia, fatigue, bouts of crying. A full night’s sleep is a dream and I wake several times at night, burning up despite the winter weather.
I’m exhausted and this has a knock-on effect in all I do. I find it hard to concentrate and my head is full of white noise again.
Even when I was contacted with an offer of help (to come in another blog), I tried to put it off for a couple of days because the thought of getting ready to have a WhatsApp conversation exhausted me.
This is what HRT shortages are doing to women.
It is leaving strong, confident, successful women at the mercy of the fluctuating chemicals in their body; chemicals that affect every cell we have.
No, we will not die from HRT shortages. But the highest rate of suicide for women is among those aged 45-54 – prime menopause years. While correlation is not causation, MPs need to be aware that menopause is more than hot flushes and irregular periods.
Please, if you’re not already doing so, follow the Pausitivity KnowYourMenopause campaign to raise awareness of the wide range of menopause symptoms.
And especially now, lobby your MP both about the need to have KnowYourMenopause posters in GP sugeries and the need to solve the HRT shortage.
I’ve gone beyond explanations and I don’t care whose fault it is**. I just want to stop women going through hell when there is no need.
Please join me.
*The one thing my lovely GP got wrong – I’ve since learnt it is possible to take oestrogen for up to six months without progesterone (both are necessary if you still have a womb).
**Once we get this sorted, I will of course be calling for P45s to go to whoever is to blame for this. For the most compelling argument of who this is, read Emma Hartley’s Solving The Great HRT Mystery.