Today is the day I run out of HRT patches. Consider yourself warned

The coronavirus crisis threatens to worsen the menopause-medication shortage

The World Health Organisation is rather busy right now, but my own guidelines on social distancing, which I intend to release for the good of the public's health, are to keep well clear of me, in case you catch a bit of a tongue lashing. May I recommend the whole nine yards? Two metres will not suffice.

After 22 phone calls to 22 chemists I have admitted defeat and swallowed the realisation that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) patches are in short supply in Ireland.

I had read Sylvia Thompson, in the Irish Times health supplement, saying that some HRT patches will not reappear in pharmacies until May. But that was before the Covid-19 pandemic started to bite.

Denial has often served me well. First, I was in denial that I was even going to have a menopause. Like King Canute, I was wrong. Then, I was holding on to the belief that Ireland and its pharmacies would provide. Not this time.


Dr Deirdre Lundy, co-ordinator for women's health with the Irish College of General Practitioners, says some Irish women had been asking friends and family to buy HRT supplies in Spain and elsewhere. The coronavirus lockdown has ended that. Hasta la vista, HRT. Women's health will retain its place on the back burner, it seems.

A friend and I joked about behaving like characters from Breaking Bad and selling HRT patches to sweaty middle-aged women. In the Irish Examiner, Alison O'Connor recounted setting up such a deal. "I brokered a drug transaction this week," she wrote. "It involved two school mums. One is almost literally climbing the walls because she is without a medication; the other had a box of it in her bathroom cupboard, which she had never used. The exchange took place on a local footpath. If you think it is difficult to get a coronavirus-related face mask at the moment, you should try sourcing a HRT patch from an Irish pharmacy."

Useful treatment

HRT is a useful treatment not only for classical menopausal symptoms, such as night sweats, hot flushes and difficulty sleeping, but also for depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and poor memory and concentration. “Many women in their 40s and 50s benefit from these hormone treatments and feel healthier on them,” Dr Lundy says.

Oh, we feel healthier, all right. We also don’t feel like narky coiled springs.

Now, just as we can’t get hold of HRT patches to stem our sweaty menopausal flushes, we are told that temperature is a useful diagnostic tool for Covid-19. We are currently on high alert for a high temperature. Now that is a double bind. Good luck detecting if your raging temperature is a menopausal symptom or a terrifying coronavirus signifier. Welcome to the 2m between a rock and a hard place.

Before the coronavirus crisis, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said that many women were unable to fill HRT prescriptions and that this was causing those women “distress and inconvenience”. Everyone is getting used to distress and inconvenience in these distressing and inconvenient times. Many find themselves locked down with someone for whom “distress and inconvenience” are watchwords.

So stand well back, and don’t light the blue touch paper. You have been warned.