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Whitmore hosts special briefing on how current drugs reimbursement scheme is failing women instead of helping them

Women suffering from hyperemesis during pregnancy must not be abandoned by our health service, according to Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore.

Deputy Whitmore hosted a special briefing in Leinster House this week to highlight how the current reimbursement scheme for Cariban – a medication that helps treat the condition – is failing women instead of supporting them. The event was attended by representatives of advocacy group Hyperemesis Ireland and members of the medical profession, including Professor Mary Higgins – consultant obstetrician at the National Maternity Hospital and assistant professor at UCD.

“Cariban is the first line of treatment for Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), a condition during pregnancy which causes extreme nausea, headaches and severe vomiting. Due to the high cost of the drug, it has not been accessible or affordable for many sufferers.

“The announcement in Budget 2023 that Cariban would be covered by the Drugs Payment Scheme was initially welcomed. However, it later emerged that the devil was in the detail. To qualify for the scheme, patients must get their initial prescription from a consultant obstetrician. This has caused deep frustration for sufferers, as well as pharmacists, consultants and GPs.

“In some cases, patients must wait at least 12 weeks to see a consultant, even though hyperemesis can start as early as four weeks into pregnancy. It is difficult to comprehend why GPs – who know their patients’ medical history better than anyone – cannot provide women with their first Cariban prescription if women want to be reimbursed under the scheme.

“The Minister for Health must listen to the lived experiences of those who have suffered from this most debilitating condition. Some women’s symptoms are so severe that they are presenting to A&E in the desperate hope of securing a prescription from a consultant.

“Put simply, the reimbursement scheme is not fit for purpose and is failing pregnant women. At today’s briefing, Hyperemesis Ireland described the current system as cruel and illogical. They pointed out that women are becoming sicker while they wait to see a consultant. This increases the likelihood that they will need hospital treatment and results in the HSE incurring higher costs.

“I am now urging the Minister to meet with representatives of Hyperemesis Ireland and work with them to make Cariban easier to access under the reimbursement scheme. The Government must put the suffering of pregnant women first and ensure they are not abandoned by our health service.”

February 17, 2023

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