Last Friday, MPs debated the Medical Cannabis (Access) Bill in Parliament. I introduced this piece of legislation after being drawn in the Private Member’s bill ballot, to help find ways of opening up access to medical cannabis for patients on the NHS. You can read a full transcript of the debate here.
Since medical cannabis was made legal in 2018, the system has failed to deliver NHS prescriptions to the vast majority of people who need them – only three NHS prescriptions have been provided. Some of these patients, many of them young children, rely on medical cannabis to treat rare, severe conditions and symptoms where other medicines have failed. It can be life-transforming, and sometimes life-saving.
Some patients have been able to access medical cannabis privately, which can result in unaffordable medical bills of up to two thousand pounds a month. Many can’t even get private prescriptions, and are driven to move abroad to seek treatment, or to source much less safe cannabis medicines on the black market.
There are a number of complex reasons for our institutions’ failure to get this safe, legal medicine to those who need it. My Bill made modest, focused proposals which aimed to increase the number of doctors legally able to prescribe medical cannabis, and increase all healthcare professionals’ confidence in the evidence for its safety and effectiveness.
Many MPs spoke in favour of the Bill, some from very powerful personal perspectives. I am grateful to all those that made a thoughtful and reasoned contribution to the debate.
Despite the Bill’s wide cross-party support, the Government ultimately decided to block it and instructed their own MPs to ‘talk it out’ so that it would not progress to a vote. After the months I spent engaging with Ministers and trying to find a use for the Bill that they would accept, this was disappointing, but not entirely surprising.
It was a shame that the Minister present chose not to respond to the points raised during the debate, which she could have done at any point. As well as the proposals put forward by my Bill, MPs made several other constructive suggestions as to how the Government could act to solve the problem. I am writing to the Government to request the response that we did not receive on Friday.
The Government acknowledges that this is a problem and says it wants to find a fix, but they have shown a real unwillingness to think outside the box on this issue, and now blocked a piece of legislation that would have helped.
So the question remains – if they don’t support my proposals, then what solutions will they support?
Along with patients and their families, campaigners, supportive doctors and experts, and many other Parliamentarians, I will continue pressing the Government on this over the coming months. The campaign for access to cannabis based medicines on the NHS continues.