By Emily Ledger
The government is coming under increasing pressure as MPs and peers call for financial support for families forced to pay for private medical cannabis prescriptions. A number of high-profile cases have highlighted the struggle of families who are unable to access medical cannabis for their children through the NHS.
Although medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018, only a handful of patients have been able to access their medication through the NHS. The vast majority of medical cannabis patients currently have to pay for private prescriptions, which can cause a significant strain on their finances.
In a letter to the Prime Minister from a cross-party collection of 100 politicians, it has been claimed that since the law change in 2018, only three NHS prescriptions for medical cannabis products have been granted.
The rescheduling of cannabis allows medical forms of the drug to be prescribed by specialist doctors in “exceptional circumstances”. Currently, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends the use of medical cannabis for some forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy, chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting, and spasticity and stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis.
Some advocates for medical cannabis access, including group director of the APPG Peter Carroll, believe that current guidance from various medical bodies have been overly cautious, resulting in the current situation regarding prescriptions.
Although access to medical cannabis products for a number of conditions is on the rise through private clinics, Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi points out in the letter that some parents are having to fundraise up to £2,000 every month to pay for their child’s prescription.
The open letter from 100 MPs and peers from across the political spectrum states:
“In any circumstance, this is a severe financial burden for families already having to cope with very sick children and Covid restrictions have rendered most fund-raising impossible,” she added.
“The reasons for the lack of NHS prescriptions appear to be complex and will inevitably take time to resolve. However, the families to which we refer simply do not have time.
“They are emotionally and financially broken and their children are at risk of being without their life-transforming medicine within weeks.”
The letter concludes with an appeal to the Prime Minister to “grant access to some form of compassionate funding until the wider issues can be resolved”.
The BBC reports that a spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We sympathise with every patient and every family courageously confronting life with hard-to-treat conditions.”
The spokesman added that the department was currently considering “what further action we can take with regard to broader access to unlicensed cannabis-based products while giving immediate priority to resolving the supply of Bedrocan oils from the Netherlands, which many patients are receiving.”