MP hits out at private pharmacies over claims of ‘profiteering’ from HRT shortages

HRT
HRT

Companies are being accused of “profiteering” from HRT shortages by an MP as she raised concerns that some private pharmacies are inflating prices for desperate women.

Manufacturing and supply chain problems, as well as a surge in demand for hormone replacement therapy (HRT), have created severe shortages of the drugs.

Women have told how they have been forced to share supplies through social media, as well as drive “up and down the motorway to swap patches for gel”.

Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, who is co-chair of the Menopause Taskforce, claimed some HRT products are being sold online for “three times as much as they’re worth”.

“It’s profiteering,” she told The Telegraph, and vowed to raise the issue in Parliament, write to the pharmacies involved and contact Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary.

Boots Online Doctor, a virtual consultation service which delivers prescriptions to your door, is advertising a 240 gram pack of Oestrogel – which is facing significant shortages – for £80.

Boots said the £80 includes the consultation fee and its price has not changed since last summer. A spokesman added that the private prescriptions do not have preferential access to Oestrogel supplies.

Ms Harris said last month she paid £62 for four 80 gram packs through another private prescription service. Through an NHS prescription, patients would typically pay £9.35 for one pack.

Women have also suggested that before the shortages they were able to purchase an 80 gram pack privately for around £22.

‘It’s complete profiteering’

“Get your act together, this is just exploitation,” Ms Harris said. “Anybody who thought it was a good idea to hike the price up because there was a shortage… it’s awful, it’s just complete profiteering, and making a profit off the back of somebody’s desperation is never a good look.”

In another example, one online pharmacy was allegedly advertising the 80 gram pack for £58.98, according to screenshots sent to Ms Harris. As of Monday, the pharmacy was advertising the pack for £24.99.

Carole Trelease, from South Tyneside, said she paid £46 for a pack of the gel from a different online pharmacy after she was unable to fill her NHS prescription at her local pharmacy.

The website is now advertising the product for £42 and limiting supplies to one pack per patient.

“I was so desperate not to go without, I would have paid more,” she told The Telegraph.

“It’s the fear of going backwards in regards to my pre-HRT time that makes the payment decision easy. However, I really appreciate that I’m lucky to be in a position to pay and lots of women won’t have the money to do so.”

HRT manufacturers to meet Sajid Javid this week

The Telegraph has also been made aware of listings for the product on eBay selling for around £60.

Besins Healthcare Ltd, which manufactures Oestrogel, said it has supplied double the quantity to the UK between January and April than it did this time last year.

On Thursday, Mr Javid is expected to meet with HRT manufacturers and the new HRT supply tsar, Madeleine McTernan, to discuss the shortages. Pharmacy representatives are also expected to attend.

Last week some HRT products were subjected to three-month prescription limits to ensure fair access.

But some drug companies have said the shortages could end “within days” if NHS red tape is cut to allow GPs to see a wider range of HRT products.

Ms Harris said she intends to write to the Health Secretary before Thursday’s meeting to make sure he is aware of the alleged “profiteering” taking place.

A spokesman at Boots said Online Doctor is a “full service that provides quality care to patients and its price, which includes the cost of medicines prescribed, reflects this”.

They added: “We understand the challenges that patients across the UK are currently experiencing in accessing some HRT medicines, both through the NHS and privately, due to industry wide shortages of certain lines. We remain in regular contact with suppliers so we can manage this as effectively as possible. We do not prioritise medicine for private patients over others.”

The other online pharmacies were approached for comment.

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