Thank you to all constituents who contacted me about access to cannabis-based medicinal products on the NHS. Many of those who got in touch shared very moving stories of loved ones experiencing pain related to health conditions because they cannot access the treatment that they need. I support the prescription of medicinal cannabis and I share the disappointment of my constituents with the current situation.
As you know, in November 2018 the law was changed to allow doctors on the specialist register of the General Medical Council to prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use.
I welcome that the Government accepted the therapeutic use of cannabis. However, more than 32 months later, many patients report that they are still unable to obtain a prescription on the NHS. A report published in 2020 by the Care Quality Commission found that just 6.5% of the total number of cannabis-based medicinal products prescribed to patients in 2019 came from NHS prescriptions.
As a result, some families are paying thousands of pounds a month to private healthcare providers for treatment. That is a huge amount of money especially in the middle of a pandemic where many have seen their income slashed. I am concerned that this is creating an unjust two-tier system where those who can pay get access to vital medication and those who cannot pay go without. The NHS is one of our greatest institutions precisely because it offers healthcare to those who need it, free at the point of use, irrespective of income.
National clinical guidelines recommend two cannabis-based medicinal products for use on the NHS: Epidyolex has been recommended for seizures associated with Lennox Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome; and Savitex has been recommended for relief of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. The Government confirmed that funding has been fast-tracked by NHS England and NHS Improvement for patients who fulfil the criteria under these guidelines, which it hopes will improve access to licensed cannabis-based products for patients.
Ministers have said they are working with the health system, industry, and researchers to improve the evidence base for other unlicensed cannabis-based medicines, and to implement the recommendations of a recent review on barriers to accessing unlicensed cannabis based medicinal products. This includes the design of clinical trials and the establishment of a national patient registry.
As a member of the Shadow front bench I was not able to sign the open letter recently delivered to the Prime Minister urging him to intervene and support people with the costs of the medicine in the short term until the blockage with NHS prescriptions can be resolved. However, I strongly support calls for the Government to speed up and improve the availability of medicinal cannabis on the NHS and guarantee that patients in our constituency and across the country can access funded medicinal products where appropriate.