Can I buy HRT over the counter? Here are the facts

August 2, 2022

The proposal that a type of HRT could be made available at pharmacies has sparked headlines this week. Peppy’s Director of Menopause Services, Kathy Abernethy, explains what’s really happening.

Quick facts

  • At present, all types of HRT require a prescription from your doctor.
  • Now, one type of HRT for vaginal dryness could be made available over the counter.
  • The UK medicines regulator is currently consulting on whether to reclassify vaginal oestrogen tablets as a pharmacy medicine.

You may have seen the headlines this week about HRT being available over the counter and thought, ‘What a great idea’.

But it’s not quite as simple as it sounds and some of those headlines have been misleading.

What is being proposed is that one type of HRT product, that treats vaginal dryness,should switch from being a prescription medicine to being available over the counter (OTC) at  pharmacies.

This means you would be able to buy it in your local chemist.

The UK medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is now consulting with GPs, menopause prescribers, pharmacists and the public on this proposal.

Once the consultation has taken place, it will then make a decision. We don’t know at the moment how long that will take.

The move has been welcomed by women experiencing menopause, particularly those who have found it difficult to access support for symptoms like vaginal dryness.

But health care professionals have been more cautious. That’s because prescribing HRT is much more complicated than just giving out one standard medication.

hrt over the counter support

So what are the facts? 

  1. There is no plan to make general HRT available over the counter.

This current proposal refers only to vaginal oestrogen and only to one specific product. This is called Vagifem when currently prescribed. These are tablets you insert into your vagina with an applicator. Potentially, it’s good news for people experiencing symptoms of vaginal dryness during menopause, as it will make it easier for women to treat an issue that can be embarrassing.

  1. Who will be able to buy it?

Anyone experiencing vaginal symptoms during menopause, such as dryness, itching or painful sex, who is over 50 and who has not had a period for at least one year. This is what is called a ‘typical user’. But, if you don’t fall into that category, you will still be able to use it after seeing your doctor or prescriber.

  1. Who is it not suitable for?

Anyone who has had breast cancer in the past will not be able to buy over the counter, but may still be able to get it on prescription.

  1. Why isn’t general HRT available over the counter?

HRT is not one product but many different types, combinations and doses. You need the most appropriate one for you, and a more personalised prescription. This makes buying it over the counter difficult as it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

  1. I thought HRT prescribing costs were going to be reduced?

In England, HRT is paid for thorough prescription charges, sometimes as often as monthly. The government has promised to reduce that cost and NHS England is considering how best to do this. Expect news soon.

oestrogen cream over the counter support

Peppy’s final word on HRT…

Being able to buy vaginal oestrogen over the counter is a really positive step. It is a very low risk and very effective treatment for a condition that affects a large number of people during and after menopause. Doctors are still prescribing it for those who fall outside of ‘typical users’. But for many, it will make accessing treatment much simpler.

If you need more advice or have questions about vaginal dryness or other menopause symptoms speak to your Peppy practitioner.

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