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NZ women on a mental precipice as a result of HRT shortage - survey

Waitaki App


26 June 2024, 9:42 PM

NZ women on a mental precipice as a result of HRT shortage - surveyEstradiot: hormone replacement therapy drugs. Photo: Supplied via RNZ

The HRT patch shortage has hit so hard that 20 percent of women have had to take time off work while others have reported thoughts of suicide.

A new survey of over 2000 HRT users revealed that the mental health of 80 percent of participants had been affected, while 70 percent said their physical health had suffered.

A Hawke's Bay GP launched the survey a week ago after calling around Tauranga pharmacies at 7.30pm on a Saturday to find estrogen patches for a patient.

"I asked myself why am I doing this and what's the bigger picture?" she told RNZ's Nine to Noon.

Due to scarce supplies of estrogen patches, GPs and other health professionals here were "really under the pump" trying to help patients manage their symptoms, Newman said.

"There is huge stress on doctors who need to triage patients and their reactions to alternatives to patches and on pharmacists who don't have the right tools to work with.

"It's like pick your poison for women at the moment, what's the worst risk?"

For the last couple of years, due to the unavailability of Estradot, Dr Newman believed she had been unable to offer "gold-standard best practice" in the treatment of menopause symptoms.

When HRT users were unable to access medication, there was a negative impact on not only the individuals, she said, but also their co-workers and whānau.

Hawkes Bay GP Samantha Newman. Photo: Supplied via RNZ

''What was really upsetting me and I was finding the hardest was women and other users of Estradot being denied medications, and me seeing the difference and what it had done for them and what it enabled them to do."

Of more than 2000 HRT users who responded to the survey, 20 percent said they had had to take time off work due to the patch shortages, she said, and a number reported psychiatric admissions and even suicide attempts.

A lot of New Zealanders did not understand how seriously menopause could affect the health of women, Dr Newman said, and the incredible benefits that HRT therapy could deliver when prescribed appropriately.

Around 84 percent of survey respondents reported that their sleep improved after using estrogen patches, while 33 percent were able to decrease or stop using pain medication and 17 percent stopped using antidepressants.

In general, New Zealanders needed more public education about the symptoms of menopause, she said, and those working in healthcare needed a better understanding of how HRT could help.

She is one of the health professionals calling for better communication from Pharmac about the shortage.

Even though Pharmac acknowledged in a 2022 media release that there had been supply issues with Estradot for a few years, Dr Newman said, they have not yet officially responded to the shortage.

"I think they need to change their processing and their approval approach … and support all individuals impacted."