Cannabis to be prescribed on NHS for medicinal use
DOCTORS will soon be allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis on the NHS after the Home Secretary announced the law would be relaxed.
From the autumn, specialist consultants will be able to treat patients with cannabis- derived products for conditions including epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Yesterday’s announcement by Sajid Javid came after two boys with severe epilepsy were initially refused medication earlier this year. Billy Caldwell, 13, from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, had travelled to Canada with his mother Charlotte to obtain a six-month supply. But it was confiscated upon their return to Heathrow Airport on June 11, and Billy became severely unwell.
Mr Javid intervened a week later and issued an urgent licence to enable the illegal cannabis oil to be returned to his mother. He subsequently granted a licence for a second boy with severe epilepsy, Alfie Dingley, six, of Kenilworth, Warwickshire.
Yesterday Mr Javid announced that later in the year specialist clinicians will be able to routinely prescribe these medicines and similar products. But he stressed the move was ‘in no way a first step’ towards the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.
The Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care will now decide which products will be prescribed for which conditions. They will also determine which doctors can prescribe the products and whether it would be GPs or solely specialist consultants.
Mr Javid said: ‘Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory. That is why we launched a review and set up an expert panel to advise on licence applications in exceptional circumstances.
‘Following advice from two sets of independent advisers, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis- derived medicinal products – meaning they will be available on prescription.
‘This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need, but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.’
Writing on Twitter later, he added: ‘Making medicinal cannabis available on prescription will benefit the lives of ill patients currently suffering in silence. There is nothing harder than seeing your loved ones in pain, which is why I have taken this decision.’
Medicinal cannabis is already prescribed by doctors in Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada. It has been used to treat epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), cancer – to relieve nausea after chemotherapy – arthritis and epilepsy.
Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, said: ‘ This is exceptional news and we want to thank the Home Secretary for the speed at which this decision has been made.
‘We started campaigning for cannabis for MS exactly a year ago, and it’s incredible to see how far we’ve come since then. The priority now has to be making sure everyone who could benefit can access cannabis in a safe and responsible way.
‘We plan to work closely with the Government to determine what exactly this will mean for people with MS. This life-changing decision could help thousands with the condition who haven’t been able to find relief for their pain and muscle spasms.’
Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘This is a very welcome move by the Home Secretary. RCN members voted overwhelmingly at our annual congress in May to lobby the governments across the UK to decriminalise cannabis for medicinal use, because nurses were worried that vulnerable patients are currently being forced to self-medicate or medicate their children from sources that aren’t necessarily safe.’
Karen Gray, from Edinburgh, who set up a petition for her five-year-old son Murray to receive medicinal cannabis for his epilepsy, said: ‘I am delighted that the Government is now acknowledging that cannabis
‘Benefit the lives of patients’
has medicinal value. We still have a long way to go but this is certainly progress.’
The announcement follows a review earlier this month by Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, which concluded there was ‘conclusive’ evidence that cannabis-based products had ‘therapeutic benefits’.
Another report last week by the Advisory Council On The Misuse of Drugs recommended that cannabis-derived medicinal products should be downgraded from being ‘schedule 1’ drugs to ‘schedule 2’. Schedule 1 drugs – as defined by the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 – include LSD and ecstasy, which cannot be used as medicines. Schedule 2, on the other hand, include morphine, other opiates and cocaine, which can be prescribed for certain conditions. The Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines And Health products Regulatory Agency will now develop guidelines of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product.
The Home Office and the Department of Health will also decide over the next few months exactly which doctors will be allowed to prescribe these products.
In the meantime, doctors wanting to prescribe cannabis-based products will be able to apply to an independent expert panel that was set up last month.