How many medical cannabis patients are there in the UK?

Figures for NHS England will be released in March but it’s expected to be disappointingly low according to patient groups.

We should have official figures on how many medical cannabis patients at the end of March according to the Health secretary, Steve Brine. If the government can keep to its timeline, which is unlikely to happen as it would have the numbers announced at the same time as Brexit, when all government departments are likely to be occupied, we will still be missing key insight.

The government figures won’t include ‘the number of patients denied access to prescriptions for medicinal cannabis.’ This is important because since cannabis derived medical products  (CDMP’s) were legalised on November 1st 2018 there have been reports in the press around the difficulty of gaining access.

The first person reported to have been granted a prescription for CDMP’s was Carly Barton, a director for the pressure group United Patients Alliance and Fibromyalgia sufferer. Her private consultant, Dr David McDowell was quoted in Sky News as saying “As a result of this she is able to be no longer bed bound for days on end and can resume daily activities and is able to hold down a job. As a result of better control of her pain there is a positive effect in her well-being and quality of life.”

However, this prescription came from a private clinic and so the medicine is costing £2,500 for three months treatment of one gramme of Dutch herbal cannabis per day. Bedrocan, the dutch producer would sell the product for €6 per gramme meaning that Carly is forced to pay a markup of over 5 times cost. There have been no prescriptions yet originating from the NHS, which would reduce the cost to patients. Carly told the Mirror she fears that the exorbitant pricing means that “We are going to be put in a position where the rich are patients and the poor are criminals.”

The Stop and Chat has determined that there was in fact an earlier prescription written on the 7th of November for a Manchester based individual who chose to remain anonymous. While this gives hope that there may be more patients who have had their needs met that haven’t gone to the press, his story is sadly similar to Carly’s. Forced to go to a private pain clinic due to the NHS’ unwillingness to engage with patients; he directed a specialist who had prescribed him Sativex in the past specifically to choose Bedrocan, after recounting all the other medicines he’d tried unsuccessfully. He specifically chose Bedrocan as an EU based company in the knowledge that they can process UK prescriptions in the event that his local pharmacy was unable to fill the prescription. His local pharmacy tried to fill the prescription but none of the ‘Specials’ providers were able to do so and he had to travel to Holland at his own expense to fill the prescription. In the event of a no-deal Brexit there are concerns that even this route may be closed if EU pharmacies cannot serve UK citizens

The bottom line is until patients can access medicines at a reasonable price without having to get their passports out and hop on a plane the system is not fit for purpose.

Have you been prescribed or asked to be prescribed medical cannabis? We’d love to hear you story  please email us at editor@thestopandchat.com.

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