A shortage of contraceptives has prompted leading health experts to call for Government intervention due to fears the supply issues could lead to a rise in unplanned pregnancies and abortions inadvertently affecting the most vulnerable in society.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Menopause Society and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare have written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, calling for a working group to be set up to address the situation. 

The shortage of contraceptives such as the self-injectable Sayana Press, which does not have an alternative follows ongoing manufacturing and supply issues for hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Lack of transparency around shortages are frustrating

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:
“We understand the HRT supply situation should begin to improve from February 2020 as the range of products which supply 70% of the HRT patch market will be re-introduced to the UK market. However a number of HRT medications and contraceptives remain unavailable, some until the end of this year, and some with no timeline as to when they will be back on the market.

“While we are grateful to the Department of Health and Social Care for working closely with suppliers to re-introduce some of these products to the market, it remains unclear why there is a shortage in the first place or when the normal supply of the products might resume. The lack of transparency around why these shortages have occurred is extremely frustrating.

“Thousands of women and girls have been adversely affected by this ongoing situation and they deserve better. We are calling on the DHSC to set up a working group with industry, regulatory agencies and our organisations to get to the root of why shortages in both HRT and contraceptives have occurred. This working group must work together to ensure that this situation is prevented from happening again.”

Why are drug shortages unique to the UK?

Experts say that the shortages are likely to put extra pressure on primary care as women seek alternatives and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our society, for example a woman struggling to access clinics, or a transgender patient, who is already under psychological distress, and for whom changing contraceptive preparations could cause further difficulties.

Mr Haitham Hamoda, Chair of the British Menopause Society (BMS), said: “We are continuing to provide advice to prescribers on alternative products available and we are keeping our website updated on what treatments are available based on information from the manufacturers. For the majority of women, supplies of alternative HRT products are available and women affected should discuss alternatives with their doctor.”

“It is very frustrating that we still do not know why these shortages are happening, and why they seem to be unique to the UK. While we understand the DHSC is working with suppliers, we remain concerned about these shortages which need to be addressed urgently.”