Medicinal Cannabis: Health Secretary urged to act over prescription costs
Medicinal cannabis was legalised in November 2018
The Government has faced calls to save families “from the pain” of paying medicinal cannabis prescription costs.
Medicinal cannabis was legalised in November 2018 after the then home secretary Sajid Javid said he had listened to concerns from parents of children with conditions such as severe epilepsy.
But Christine Jardine has called on Mr Javid, now the Health Secretary, to intervene again, arguing in an adjournment debate in Parliament that some families are having to shoulder the cost of the medicine after it has been prescribed.
The Liberal Democrat MP said that following the change in 2018: “We all believed I think that parents would no longer be forced to watch their children suffer when they knew a treatment was available.
“What has happened since is heart-breaking. In the intervening years they’ve been forced to source medication themselves, sometimes travel abroad to collect it, again at huge costs, challenge the medical authorities and face rejection of repeated appeals for NHS prescriptions.”
Ms Jardine told the House about a young boy call Murray Gray, who she said suffered with a “rare form of epilepsy which was blighting his childhood”, and who was prescribed medicinal cannabis, but the cost of which was not funded on the NHS.
She said: “Medicinal cannabis has transformed his life. When his mum Karen first came to see me, he was a very, very unwell wee boy who was constantly in and out of hospital with dozens of seizures a day and his family were worried they could lose him. Now since being prescribed cannabis oil he is seizure free and a happy young sir who plays football with his dad.”
Ms Jardine added: “Murray is still unable to access that life-changing treatment on the NHS. His family have to find the money themselves every month. And that’s not just Murray, it’s not just his case, his life, it’s not a one-off.”
The MP said there is an “overwhelming body of observed evidence on the efficacy of cannabis oil”, but said there are currently only two physicians in the country prescribing the medication.
She went on: “The debate comes down to the willingness of the medical profession,” she said, adding “until a more widespread solution for prescribing can be agreed, and it must be, the Government should save these families from the pain of paying for prescriptions.”
She said “just three NHS prescriptions for the type of medicinal cannabis that is life-transforming for these children have been issued since November 2018”.
Conservative former minister Sir Mike Penning added: “The crucial thing about when the law was changed – this was prescribed medical use of cannabis oil by a specialist consultant, not a GP, not a spliff behind the bike sheds or anything like that, prescribed medical use that saved children’s lives.
“And I agree with (Ms Jardine), it’s a disgrace that we are still here today debating it.”
Health minister Jo Churchill said the Government was “trying to find a solution” so that children with epilepsy specifically could be treated with cannabis-based medicines on the NHS.
She said: “We have to look at this in a selection of doable achievable pieces because it is not possible to look at this for every condition.
“We are talking about those children with refractory epilepsy and trying to find solutions there is my main focus currently.”
She added that doctors needed an evidence base to give them confidence in prescribing cannabis-based medicines, and said plans had been “confirmed in principle” for a series of trials.
The minister concluded by saying: “I can assure you that I will carry on making sure that we are doing as much as we can with my team to try and get us to a solution that helps these children in the short-term but also in the long-term, while having second strand work: being that evidence base that we need to support the wider prescribing of any drug, because we need to make sure that we are doing it with care.”
NHS England’s website says “very few people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis”.