MPs criticise NHS over failure to prescribe medical cannabis

  • MPs have condemned the British Government for failing to provide medical cannabis to desperate patients
  • Patients currently must have costly, private prescriptions in order to access legal medical cannabis
  • Jorja Emerson’s family has to pay almost £10,000 a year (£833.75 per month) for her medical cannabis prescription for intractable epilepsy

MPs have condemned a “serious cultural block within the NHS around medical cannabis.”

The all-party parliamentary group for medical cannabis (AAPG) denounced the current procedure for acquiring a prescription for medical cannabis after it emerged that Jorja Emerson (the first child to be prescribed medical cannabis) must pay nearly £10,000 a year for their private prescription.

The AAPG claim that the Government cannot have envisaged the existing process when they voted to legalise medical cannabis in November. Mike Penning MP, co-chair of the AAPG said:

“For Jorja and her family this is a great day and I commend the private consultant, supported by her private hospital, who has taken the courageous decision to prescribe a medical cannabis product which she genuinely feels is in the best interest of her patient.

“But the fact remains that there is a serious cultural block within the NHS around medical cannabis.

“Other families, many with children just as seriously ill as Jorja, continue to face a complete block from their NHS medical teams.”

The Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead raised the point that most families simply do not have the resources to afford private prescriptions, as in many cases:

“I do not believe that this is what the prime minister and home secretary envisaged when they made the bold change in the law on 1 November to reschedule medical cannabis to enable consultants to prescribe it.

“The number of even private clinicians willing to prescribe appears to be in low single figures”

Denying parents the right for their children to try these newly available medicines is cruel.
– Tonia Antoniazzi MP, co-chair AAPG

Tonia Antoniazzi MP, co-chair, joined the call for action, demanding a change to a system which fundamentally lets patients down:

“The high-profile cases over the summer of Alfie Dingley and others clearly show that for some epileptic children medical cannabis containing low concentrations of THC can be life-transforming.

“Denying parents the right for their children to try these newly available medicines is cruel.

“It appears that the medical profession is totally wedded to only prescribing a substance for which there is double-blind trial evidence. But there is a need for a common-sense perspective here.”

Antoniazzi also argued that some forms of epilepsy are resistant to conventional, pharmaceutical anti-epileptic drugs, often carrying severe, life-threatening side-effects, while medical cannabis offers a potentially safer alternative for patients:

“To our knowledge, no one has ever died from taking THC, and in any case the concentrations that we are talking about in these medicines are very low.”

Jorja Emerson, 2, suffers from a rare form of intractable, treatment-resistant epilepsy which causes her to suffer from life-threatening seizures. Pharmaceutical medication failed to ease the severity or decrease the number of seizures she was suffering, potentially causing permanent damage to the young girl’s body and brain.

Doctors have warned her parents that she might suffer a fatal seizure if her condition does not improve.

Speaking to The Guardian, Robin Emerson, her father, said:

“This has been an assault course of bureaucracy and a rollercoaster ride of severe ups and downs.

“I have faced near-total opposition in my quest to get my daughter access to a medicine that is now legal in the UK and has been shown to work in similar cases.

“No family should have to endure what we have been through.

“Thanks to the generosity of friends and supporters I have managed to raise enough money to fund the first few months of the medicine. But at £833.75 per month I face a desperately difficult future.”

Private prescriptions for medical cannabis are pricing-out patients who are desperate for an alternative to dangerous, addictive pharmaceutical medication.

Although cannabis was legalised for medical use at the end of 2018, few are benefitting from the change in law. Hopefully 2019 will see a change to the cultural fear of prescribing cannabis, allowing greater access to those who need it most.