People with sick children are still having to travel abroad to use cannabis – as thousands of patients are denied newly legal cannabis treatments. Conservative former minister Sir Mike Penning said the medical guidance used by the NHS before handing out prescriptions is ‘cruel and botched’ – as it restricts access to medication. Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, two severely epileptic boys whose conditions helped change the laws, would not be able to get renewed access to their medication under the guidelines, their families say.
Sir Mike hit out at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and British Paediatric Neurology Association (BPNA) guidance as ‘crushing the hopes of many thousands of patients’. ‘We are now in the quite frankly cruel and ludicrous position of families with severely epileptic children once again having to fundraise to go abroad to get access to a medicine that we have just legalised in the UK
Labour’s Tonia Antoniazzi, who co-chairs the all party parliamentary group on medicinal cannabis with Sir Mike, said she was ‘outraged and dumbfounded in equal measure’ by the restrictions, which were introduced on Wednesday. Medicinal cannabis expert Professor Mike Barnes said specialists will not prescribe the drugs because of RCP advice stating there is no strong evidence cannabis can help with chronic pain.
And, he added, the BPNA advising non-licensed cannabis products should only be prescribed when surgery is not a possibility. RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard defended the guidance, saying there is not enough evidence to support the drugs’ use for pain.
An NHS spokesperson said the law change means specialists can prescribe the products for a ‘small number’ of patients, where their needs are not met and there is evidence of benefit. The decision to reschedule the cannabis products came following a specially commissioned review, with chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies concluding there is evidence they can have therapeutic benefits. However, the drugs can only be prescribed by a specialist doctor, not a GP, on a case-by-case basis.