Cannabis prescriptions: The NHS in crisis

Medical cannabis is primarily prescribed in the UK to ease the symptoms of severe epilepsy. Medicinal cannabis was legalised in the UK four years ago, but since then very few prescriptions for medical cannabis have even been issued.

This means that many families across the UK who rely on medicinal cannabis are finding it hard to access affordable, reliable treatments through the NHS. One such couple is Matt and Ali Hughes, who live in Norwich. They’ve been paying £600 a month for a cannabis oil called Celixir20 for their five-year-old son, Charlie.

Charlie suffers from a rare form of epilepsy which meant he was having up to 120 seizures a day before he started taking medicinal cannabis. Now, with the help of the drug, he is mainly seizure-free. However, Celexir20 might not be available soon due to supply issues, which could hugely impact the progress Charlie has made in the past years.

Why aren’t patients able to access medicinal cannabis on the NHS?

The costs faced by families like Charlie’s seem totally unnecessary considering that medicinal cannabis is legalized in the UK. However, many doctors are still very reluctant to prescribe cannabis in the UK, which is why Charlie’s parents haven’t been able to secure an NHS prescription.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidance stating that there was not enough evidence to recommend cannabis-based medicines for severe epilepsy despite the miraculous evidence of its effects in cases like Charlie’s. However, there is also no recommendation against the use of cannabis-based medical products either.

Doctors in the UK still see cannabis prescriptions as a last resort, which means that many doctors will not prescribe this medication at all.

In response to the difficulties they’ve faced as a family, Charlie’s father Matt established MedCan Support, a non-profit support group for families of children using medical cannabis. They support over 600 families across the country including Steph and Jon Micklesen in Suffolk, who spend £1900 a month on medicinal cannabis for their six-year-old son.

While organisations across the UK including NICE and the BPNA work together in the interests of families and patients with epilepsy, these stories indicate that more action is needed when it comes to ensuring that families in need can access reliable and affordable medicinal cannabis on the NHS when there is a genuine need for it.