I am concerned that patients across the country, especially those with intractable epilepsy, do not have access to medical cannabis, despite it having been legalised by the Government several months ago.
The high-profile cases of people having to travel to the Netherlands to access medical cannabis, often for their sick children, and the public outcry over this issue pressured the Government into legalising medical cannabis.
However, even in some of these high-profile cases, the patients are not being prescribed the medicine that they need. Indeed, the family of Alfie Dingley are still struggling to qualify for an ongoing prescription, despite Alfie’s case being one of the main catalysts for change.
Despite legalisation, there are barriers between patients and medical cannabis. These include the fact that the new laws only allow specialists to prescribe medical cannabis, not GPs or pharmacists.
The cost is also an issue, with many NHS trusts not willing to fund medical cannabis. The restrictions that the Government has placed on medical cannabis have facilitated exorbitant prices, as pharmaceutical companies can profiteer from a plant that not only grows naturally in the wild but is considered a weed in many countries.
I understand that cannabis needs to be processed into a more formal, medical format, however, I don’t believe that this requires drug companies to charge the NHS ten times the amount that common criminals charge for cannabis on the streets.
During the debate on 20 May, Seema Kennedy, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care, highlighted two initiatives that have been launched to help clear blockages in the system.
For one, NHS England is conducting a review to identify the ‘inappropriate barriers’ to prescription and how to address them.
Secondly, NHS Education England has created an online training package to educate health care professionals about the new laws and the cannabis medicines that they can now prescribe.
I welcome these two initiatives and I hope that they can unblock the process. I will be following the progress of these initiatives closely and I will continue to push for better access to medical cannabis, as I believe that the current system is legalisation in name only.