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Government U-turn over blocked HRT implants but menopausal women complain they still can’t get them

Exclusive: ‘I will feel very low and it is like I completely lose my lust for life, and I am anxious. That impacts my family,’ one patient says

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Wednesday 03 April 2024 12:06 BST
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An estimated 13 million women are going through the menopause in the UK – a substantial proportion of whom will be experiencing debilitating, life-changing symptoms, including heart palpitations, hot flushes, headaches, vaginal pain, anxiety and depression
An estimated 13 million women are going through the menopause in the UK – a substantial proportion of whom will be experiencing debilitating, life-changing symptoms, including heart palpitations, hot flushes, headaches, vaginal pain, anxiety and depression (Kathy Mackin)

The government has done a U-turn on blocking “life-changing” medicine for menopausal women but patients are still struggling to access the treatment.

Menopausal women are experiencing suicidal thoughts and debilitating physical symptoms due to the government stopping the distribution of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) implants which are used to alleviate menopause symptoms, The Independent has learned.

An estimated 13 million women are going through the menopause in the UK – a substantial proportion of whom will be experiencing debilitating symptoms including heart palpitations, hot flushes, headaches, vaginal pain, anxiety and depression.

Some menopausal women find other forms of HRT do not help their symptoms. The implants offer a more consistent delivery of medication.

Diane Danzebrink, who runs the Menopause Support, told The Independent she has been inundated with messages from “desperate” women in the last month struggling to get hold of their usual HRT implant.

“It is a life-saving essential treatment. Life without it is unimaginable,” said Ms Danzebrink, whose organisation supports tens of thousands of women going through the menopause.

This is the only HRT that works for me. I have been in surgical menopause since I was 33. For me, HRT is not a choice. I am absolutely on the floor if I don’t have it. It is like having somebody reliant on antidepressants because they are severely mentally ill.

Victoria Hardy

Ms Danzebrink warned the situation had been “poorly” handled by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and patients had been left in the dark “running in all directions to try and find some information”.

Julian Beach, of the government agency, told The Independent they had “paused the import of Estra 25mg and 50mg pellets” into the UK after “some compliance issues” were flagged to them.

“A review of the available information so far has found no evidence of harm caused by these implants, which have been used for over 10 years in the UK,” the representative added.

“We are aware that these unlicensed medicines are critical for a specific group of patients and as suitable alternatives are currently unavailable, further imports of these medicines to the UK market will continue while we conclude a regulatory review. We will communicate our findings once this review has concluded.”

Ms Danzebrink said they had predominantly heard from young women going through surgical menopause who were struggling to get implants. These are often women who had their ovaries removed due to experiencing premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or extreme endometriosis, she added.

She said an inability to get hold of HRT implants can cause increased anxiety, mood changes, decreased confidence, heart palpitations, hot flushes, night sweats, achy joints and struggles with memory.

I will feel very low and it is like I completely lose my lust for life, and I am anxious. That impacts my family.

Victoria Hardy

Victoria Hardy, a menstrual health campaigner, told The Independent she was “devastated” after her appointment to get her implant replaced was rescheduled from this month to mid-May.

The 40-year-old said: “This is the only HRT that works for me. I have been in surgical menopause since I was 33. For me, HRT is not a choice. I am absolutely on the floor if I don’t have it. It is like having somebody reliant on antidepressants because they are severely mentally ill.”

She is already mentally struggling due to being at the end of her current implant, Ms Hardy added, saying she is experiencing brain fog and issues with memory.

Ms Hardy said: “If wait until May, I will feel very low and it is like I completely lose my lust for life, and I am anxious. That impacts my family.

“My ability to just function goes out the window, my brain gets scrambled. I get extreme fatigue because the implant is wearing off.

“Physically I’ll start to ache and my joints will become quite painful. Quite quickly, insomnia then kicks in. I get the most horrendous hot flushes and night sweats which are relentless. I get more prone to allegories - my eyes get dry and itchy and swell and my face swells.”

Kathy Mackin, who lives just outside of Edinburgh, said she forked out almost £3,000 on flights and a hotel to travel to London to get her HRT implant fitted recently - adding she was told by her doctor from the next day they would stop being available.

“I had a complete panic attack,” the 41-year-old said. “I cried. This is my complete lifeline.”

Kathy Mackin (Kathy Mackin)

Although they have lifted the block on implants, there is uncertainty about how quickly the supplies will arrive and some women she knows are well overdue being able to access them, Ms Mackin added.

She said: “Without the implant, I have suicidal ideation, chronic depression and anxiety. I won’t leave the house and I have cognitive difficulties. You go from having a life to having that removed from you.

“The government did this quite sneakily. They wouldn’t enter into dialogue with the consultants. The consultants were in the dark so couldn’t tell any patients anything. It was appallingly handled.”

In a follow-up statement, Mr Beach said they "recognise that temporarily" halting the imports of the implants "caused concerns among patients who rely on these medicines", adding: “Your safety is our top priority".

He added: "Importers of these unlicensed medicines should inform prescribers about the availability of their products."

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call or text 988, or visit: https://988lifeline.org/to access online chat from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.

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