Certain prescribers will now be able to give patients cannabis products, as new NHS guidance takes effect.
The treatments can be prescribed only by specialist doctors in a limited number of circumstances where other medicines have failed. The treatments will only be prescribed to children with severe forms of epilepsy, adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy, and adults with muscle stiffness caused by multiple sclerosis.
‘It is likely that many patients will see this legal change as a herald to prescribing of medicinal cannabis in the UK and approach their GPs in large numbers. The reality will mean that GPs cannot prescribe this and will only refer if the condition of the patient meets locally agreed criteria,’ said Deborah Robertson Lecturer at the School of Health and Society at Salford University.
‘Another potential issue is cost and supply of these medications and the potential for diversion and misuse. It has been stated that it will be down to individual trusts to decide on how and if they fund these treatments. Many may decide not to do so, and this could lead to a variation in prescribing patterns across the UK and perceived inequality of access to healthcare.
The Home Office made the decision to allow cannabis products to be used after a public outcry when two boys with severe epilepsy were not allowed to access cannabis oil, which their parents argued was helping their treatment. The prescriptions will be tightly controlled, and available in only a small number of cases.
‘The recommendations are that these should only be prescribed for conductions where some evidence base exists, and these have been outlined, and where all other treatment options have been exhausted,’ added Ms Robertson. ‘It must also be done on a named patient basis and with full support from the multidisciplinary team. These factors in themselves are likely to dramatically limit prescribing to a small group of patients.’