Jeff Smith MP aims to break medical cannabis deadlock with new legislation

Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Manchester Withington, will introduce new legislation this Friday that aims to open up access to medical cannabis for patients on the NHS

The Government legalised medical cannabis in 2018, following high profile campaigns spearheaded by the families of children with severe intractable epilepsy who benefit greatly from the medicine.

Three years on however, it’s thought that only 3 prescriptions have been provided on the NHS. Some families have been able to get private prescriptions, but these can cost around £1500 a month, with some paying up to £2000. This has left many families forced to rely on crowdfunding to be able to pay for their children’s life-changing treatment.

There are a number of reasons for the current medical cannabis deadlock – including a lack of eligible specialists willing to prescribe; a lack of training; conflicting guidance on prescribing; difficulties obtaining evidence from randomised control trials; and the fact that many cannabis treatments remain unlicensed, so some clinicians fear legal repercussions as a result of the personal liability taken on when prescribing an unlicensed medicine.

Mr Smith’s Bill aims to address these issues in two ways.

Firstly, it would create a register of GPs who can complete training that would make them eligible to prescribe the medicine, in addition to the specialist doctors who are currently allowed to prescribe. Polling has suggested that 24% of GPs would be willing to take on the role of prescribing and supervising medical cannabis treatment, with 73% open-minded about playing more of a role in prescribing.

The Bill also aims to set up a Commission which will look at all types of existing evidence, including from overseas, and propose a framework for the assessment of cannabis-based medicines for licensing. It would also recommend ways of overcoming the current barriers to NHS provision.

Although there is a wide body of international evidence for the safety and effectiveness of cannabis medicines, it is largely patient-reported, observational or evaluative. The UK’s medical regulatory bodies generally only license products on the basis of randomised control trial (RCT) data. RCT trials are very difficult to carry out on whole plant cannabis products, but nobody has yet looked systematically at all of the other forms of existing evidence to see whether licensing can be achieved through a different route.

Mr Smith, a Labour MP, is introducing the Bill as a Private Member’s Bill. To become law, it will require support from the Government.

Jeff Smith said:

“It’s frustrating that three years on from the legalisation of medical cannabis, many of those who need the medicine are still in a desperate situation with hardly anybody able to get prescriptions on the NHS.”

With my Bill, I have tried to make common-sense proposals that I believe could move things forward. It aims to expand access to medicines for patients in the short term, as well as working towards getting more cannabis-based medicines licensed.

“I have listened to patients and their families who tell me how these medicines have transformed their lives. I’ve spoken to experts who believe there is lots of evidence of their safety and efficacy. And I’ve been in frequent communication with the Government, who I believe do want to find a solution.

“But we’ve got families crowdfunding and relying on donations from strangers to be able to keep their children alive and healthy. That can’t be right. My Bill offers a way forward, and I hope the Government might support it this Friday. If they aren’t happy with my proposals, we need them to be coming back quickly with another solution to this problem.”

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