By Emily Ledger
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has clarified its recommendations on the prescription of medical cannabis in the UK. The parents of a young epileptic boy have dropped a legal challenge following the statement.
Alison and Matt Hughes, whose three-year-old son, Charlie, has a rare form of epilepsy called West Syndrome, had been sourcing medical cannabis through a private prescription allowing the legal import of products from the Netherlands.
However, after being told by their local NHS Trust that current NICE guidelines prevent them from prescribing cannabis-based medical products through the NHS, the parents decided to take legal action.
Medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in November 2018 with NICE publishing its recommendations on the prescription of medical cannabis being released the following year.
While a growing number of patients are accessing medical cannabis through private clinics, access through the NHS remains extremely rare. This is largely due to a lack of knowledge and willingness to prescribe among doctors and clinicians.
According to the recommendations, medical cannabis products can be prescribed by specialist clinicians for a number of conditions and illnesses, including treatment-resistant epilepsy. However, some have previously interpreted the lack of recommendation for prescription as a recommendation against the use of the medicines.
The recent NICE guidance states: “The fact that Nice made no such population-wide recommendation should not, however, be interpreted by healthcare professionals as meaning that they are prevented from considering the use of unlicensed cannabis-based medicinal products where that is clinically appropriate in an individual case.
“Patients in this population can be prescribed cannabis-based medicinal products if the healthcare professional considers that that would be appropriate on a balance of benefit and risk, and in consultation with the patient, and their families and carers or guardian. There is no recommendation against the use of cannabis-based medicinal products.”
Three-year-old Charlie Hughes has reportedly experienced a significant improvement in symptoms following medical cannabis treatment. Scans of Charlie’s brain revealed significantly reduced epileptic activity due to the use of the medicines.
In a statement reported by The Guardian, the Hugheses said: “We are very pleased that finally, this court case has come to a satisfactory end and we hope this will give paediatric doctors more confidence in prescribing on the NHS, on an individual basis for patients like Charlie who have shown amazing results on medicinal cannabis.
“Many families are having to pay huge sums of money every month to keep their children safe and on private prescriptions of cannabis-based medicines which work for them. They should be receiving these life-saving treatments on the NHS.”
Alison and Matt Hughes revealed their plan to take legal action in August last year.