Doctors scramble to avert possible epidural shortage in Israel as stock dwindles

With supplies on pace to run out within two months, Midwives Association assures women nobody will lack an epidural, as efforts kick in to find new sources

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: a woman giving birth. (gorodenkoff via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: a woman giving birth. (gorodenkoff via iStock by Getty Images)

Doctors and nurses in Israel have been “working night and day” to avert a possible shortage of epidurals, a leading anesthesiologist said Tuesday.

There were concerns among pregnant women about epidural availability after the Israel Society of Anesthesiologists wrote to the Health Ministry last week raising the subject of supply problems.

The Israel Midwives Association has received thousands of inquiries from women since news of a possible shortage broke, it said on Tuesday. The association released a statement reassuring pregnant women that nobody who wants an epidural will need to give birth without one.

Prof. Carolyn Weiniger, director of the Obstetric Anesthesia Unit at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, told The Times of Israel that there was confusion stemming from the complexity of the situation.

There is real disruption to supply, and if this isn’t solved, the current stock of epidurals could be used up in a little over two months, she said.

However, she emphasized that the difficulty is limited to supply from one company — Portex — which happens to be the source of 90 percent of Israel’s epidurals. There is plenty of scope to source epidurals from different companies, and she was involved, alongside other medical professionals, in obtaining and testing epidurals from those companies.

A doctor prepares an epidural. (Dmitry Andreev via iStock by Getty Images)

Satisfactory models will be submitted for regulatory approval, which she said can happen very quickly, especially as they are all already in use in other countries. “We’re working night and day to ensure epidurals get on planes from other countries in order to get them tested and approved,” Weiniger said.

The Midwives Association said in its statement: “The fear is only a future forecast, of an expected shortage of stock due to difficulty in production and supply. We hope that this will not happen at all, and people should know that the health system is doing everything possible to prevent it.”

It added: “We emphasize that there is not, and will never be, a situation where a woman who wants to give birth with an epidural will not be able to do so. This is her full right to give birth painlessly and we are there to make sure she realizes this right.”

The shortage, which is believed to stem from a lack of supply of blue dye that is used for syringes, interrupted supplies internationally.

“In several countries in the world, there have been supply issues,” Weiniger said. “They have got theirs back on track but somewhere along the way, we’re not sure where, ours was derailed.”

She said that there is enough time to get alternative supplies approved before stocks run out, and commented that “in theory, there is no reason at all” for any impact on patient care.

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