Pregnant women have to pay more than 150 euros a month for “essential medicines” due to bureaucracy

Pregnant women in Ireland suffer from limited access to ‘essential medicines’.

Ianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers has highlighted the need to review the current system for pregnant women’s access to Cariban, a key drug used to treat hyperemesis gravidarum – a pregnancy condition that causes severe nausea and vomiting.

In order to use the drug under the Community Drug Scheme, it must be prescribed by a consultant obstetrician. General practitioners can prescribe the drug, but there is no mechanism for reimbursement through the Community Drugs Scheme.

Pharmacist Laura Dowling said barriers to accessing Cariban remain, which can be costly for pregnant women.

“In budget, the hyperemesis drug Cariban would be recoverable under the drug regime. Someone with a healthcare card would get it for free, a woman with a drug payment system card would get it for €80 a month, otherwise it could be over €150 a month depending on how much the woman needs,” she said.

“This has been welcomed by groups trying to get this reimbursed for women for some time. There are women who suffer from very severe morning sickness and hyperemesis, this can really benefit them, it can save them hospital visits and GP visits, it can reduce their vomiting and make them less likely to become dehydrated.

“But it’s very expensive, I’ve sometimes charged women over 100 euros to get it. These women could be out of work because they feel so ill, and then they have to pay for this drug.”

She said a woman typically won’t see a hospital counselor well into her second trimester, although she may experience morning sickness.

“It will be refunded; However, access is difficult. The person has to see an obstetrician to get reimbursed and you have to be put on the public waiting list for that, which is extra stress.

“Your GP can write the prescription, but if they do that in front of the hospital doctor, they have to pay the full amount, regardless of the health card scheme or the medication payment scheme.

“That means the woman has to go to the hospital to see the counselor. The system is archaic, the counselor has to handwrite a form, scan it and send it to the Primary Care Reimbursement Service for approval, it is only approved for three months and then it has to be reapplied for, then the whole process has to be completed again happen.

“Women still feel like they can get it, but they can’t. It’s a big, long process. It adds stress to an already stressful situation, a woman may not be able to keep down fluids or may feel so ill that she cannot go about her daily business,” she added.

Ms Chambers has now raised the issue with Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly, asking his department to cut red tape to make it easier for pregnant women to access the drug free of charge.

She said the minister has now requested that his department carry out a review.

“It is unthinkable that we could have suffering women who need this drug while waiting to see an obstetrician. This wouldn’t normally happen until a woman is 12 weeks pregnant,” Ms Chambers said.

“Having engaged with Minister Donnelly on this issue, I am grateful that he is aware of the issues and is asking that his department conduct a speedy review of the process.”

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