PCOS and the UK’s contraception shortage

Image of a pill blister packPhoto by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

It has recently been heavily publicised in the media that the UK is facing a shortage of contraception and HRT medications. Although the emphasis in news articles has been placed on the impact this will have on unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates, as a community we are aware that these medications are used for much more than preventing pregnancy.

Oral contraception is usually used as a first-line approach in the day to day management of various symptoms of PCOS. Some oral contraceptives are better at managing symptoms such as acne and hirsutism and all are used to regulate menstrual bleeding, therefore, reducing the risk of developing secondary long term complications such as endometrial cancer.

In a recent poll on the Verity Facebook page, a third of the community (based on 665 votes) indicated using some form of contraception for symptom management. Considering the difficulty in managing PCOS anyway concerns were raised about not getting access to said medication or the correct brand or version due to different side effects. An anonymous member of the community shared their story of going back on the pill after successfully having children only to find that the one recommended and prescribed by her GP based on past history of side effects and PCOS symptoms was unavailable at many pharmacies:

No issue of supply chain was mentioned. I went to the pharmacy, who told me they had none of that pill in stock. I then tried 4 other pharmacies. It’s currently unavailable. What I don’t understand is why the GPs aren’t being notified as to which medications cannot be sourced by pharmacies and re-prescribe accordingly. I have stopped taking the pill as whilst caring for my 2 children it’s difficult to find time to get to a GP, and I basically don’t want it to happen again.

However, the vast majority of poll respondents have not indicated any difficulties in getting hold of their medication or have been given a generic version of a branded pill instead. Speaking to our medical advisor Dr Judith Ibison she advised that generic versions ‘…are exactly the same as the partner branded formulations in terms of hormones.’ However, if you are being moved away from the brand or partner generic version then patients should be aware ‘different pills have different hormonal profiles and yes this could affect acne and hirsutism particularly, so women should discuss what would be the best pill for them to change to in terms of their PCOS symptoms.’

As reported by the BBC, the Royal College of GPs are doing their best to support patients in finding alternative options where possible, and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists and the British Menopause Society have written to government ministers asking them to set up a working group to address the current issues.