Campaigners call on new Health Secretary to expand access to medicinal cannabis

Campaigners seeking improved access to medicinal cannabis are calling on the new Health Secretary to address her predecessors’ “failure” and expand the number of NHS prescriptions.

Medicinal cannabis was legalised in 2018, but NHS prescriptions are rare, and some have turned to costly private prescriptions.

A group of families and campaigners, many of whom said they are currently paying more than £1,000 a month for a private prescription for their children, descended on Westminster on Tuesday to call for improved access to the drug through the NHS.

The NHS says “very few people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis”.

Medcan Family Foundation chairwoman Hannah Deacon (pictured) played a key role in campaigning for the law to be changed in 2018, and her son Alfie Dingley was among the first to obtain an NHS prescription for cannabis-based products for seizures.

“It’s been a sea of bureaucracy for the last five years,” she said, adding “today we’re calling on the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for health to intervene to do something about this policy failure.”

She told the PA news agency: “Victoria Atkins needs to accept that this policy has failed and she needs to work with the Medcan Family Foundation to ensure there is access, where doctors think it’s clinically appropriate, that it can prescribed on the NHS with a clear funding pathway.

“This issue is not going to go away. The Government have failed to act on it – consecutive health secretaries have failed to act on it, and she must see this as a priority in her new position.”

Ms Deacon claimed the change could help thousands of children, but added: “At the moment we’re just talking about a few hundred children who are paying these private prescriptions or know that medical cannabis works for them.”

Spencer Carkeet, 51, told PA his four-and-a-half-year-old daughter Clover suffers with seizures and that his family is currently paying around £1,300 a month for a private prescription.

He said the products had led to an “amazing” improvement in Clover’s quality of life and he wants the NHS to either help with the cost or provide a prescription.

He said: “We’ve got a sick child, we just want what’s right for her.”

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde), a vocal campaigner on the issue, said: “If the medicine works, it’s available in this country, it’s manufactured in this country, why can’t we have access to it on the NHS?”

“Big promises were made,” he said, referencing the legalisation in 2018, but when asked by PA if the Government had failed to deliver on those promises, he said: “Absolutely.”

The MP said there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, including more training for doctors, and for the products to be legally reclassified so they can more easily be accessed by medical researchers.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “In 2018, we changed the law to allow specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis-based products, where clinically appropriate, and making it easier to conduct research on these products.

“Licensed cannabis-based medicines are routinely funded by the NHS where there is clear evidence of their quality, safety and effectiveness.

“We are taking an evidence-based approach to unlicensed cannabis based treatments to ensure they are proved safe and effective before they can be considered for roll-out on the NHS more widely.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Medcan Family Foundation.