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Over 3,000 hospitalisations a year among women suffering severe pregnancy sickness

A drug that treats hyperemesis is unavailable on the drugs payment scheme or medical card.

Image: Shutterstock/Speed Kingz

MORE THAN 3,000 hospitalisations a year since 2019 have been recorded for women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of sickness and vomiting during pregnancy.

A parliamentary question by Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon to the Minister for Health revealed that in 2021, 3,304 pregnant women had been in day patient and in-patient treatment for the disorder.

In 2020 this number was 3,007 women, and 3,237 in 2019.

The disorder affects 1% of pregnant persons according to the HSE, while charity Hyperemesis Ireland estimates that between 0.5% and 1% of pregnant persons will be hospitalised by hyperemesis.

One hyperemesis sufferer told The Journal that she was vomiting up to 50 times a day.

In February the government appeared to be reconsidering its decision to not allow a drug that treats hyperemesis gravidarum to be reimbursed to pregnant women under the medical card scheme.

The drug, known as Cariban, is currently unavailable on the drugs payment scheme or medical card because it was classified as a food supplement by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

While in opposition in October 2018, Stephen Donnelly told the then-Health Minister Simon Harris that all costs including, appointments, specialised care, drug treatment and hospitalisation, which fall within the parameters of maternity care, should also be universally available. 

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In fact, he highlighted specifically a case of women who find they suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum who cannot get Cariban on their medical card. 

Although hyperemesis gravidarum is not lethal the mother or fetus if it is treated, Cariban can cost up to €3,000 over the course of a pregnancy, and without any form of treatment can lead to severe dehydration and malnutrition.

Until February the Department of Health maintained that Cariban couldn’t be considered for reimbursement as an Exempt Medicinal Product under the medical card, Community Drug Schemes, or reimbursement under Discretionary Hardship Arrangements.

Then the state clarified that it no longer considered Cariban to be a food supplement, meaning that a decision to reimburse for the drug may be closer as the state’s previous reason to not fund it under such schemes is now void.

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