It is estimated that close to a million patients are now seeking access to medicinal cannabis in Australia alone .
Government figures show around 20,000 patients now have approvals for access to legal medicinal cannabis products.
Many patients, are, the MCUA reports, still having to turn to the “black” market or are self supplying because access to and cost of the majority of legal medicinal cannabis products is way beyond their financial reach.
This is happening in Queensland, for example, partly because public hospital policy does not permit its doctors to prescribe cannabis based products.
The MCUA states that the rate of approvals
Has increased substantially since the inception and a there has been a mushrooming of corporate clinics set up to move products which were languishing on warehouse shelves because GPs were refusing to prescribe medical cannabis. These clinics have the sole purpose of prescribing corporate cannabis based products and have become the gateway to moving them off the shelves .
It appears these clinics are given “special treatment” in this highly regulated environment as the MCUA noted when CEO of Medical Cannabis Company THC, David Radford said on sky news “ …we are working with individual State govts to get their approvals (for clinics)… the clinic is not the same as health clinic that you go through so we are not expecting the same regulatory hurdles…”
The current modus operandi of the clinics when communicating with “patients” is an offering of both tele-conferencing and face to face consultations with doctors who it is being alleged have have no prior experience using or prescribing cannabis based medicine in a clinical situation and who also have had limited training via educational videos and medical cannabis company company backup.
Some patients have reported to the MCUA that consultation processes have been amateur in approach. In some cases no medical history of the patient is recorded and prospective patients weren’t even asked about current medications or allergies that they might have.
As to consultation fees the MCUA report that these can vary enormously between clinics.
The majority of medical cannabis patients do not receive a Medicare rebate and the organisation currently understands that on average that patients are charged fees by third parties of around $200 to apply to the TGA online)a process for which there is no fee attached if one registers direct) . Costs, it is reported, vary from under $100 to over $1000 for an initial consultation and application (for medical cannabis) fees.
Due to the increasing number of complaints about these clinics the MCUA is currently conducting a patient satisfaction survey asking about patient experiences overall with the delivery model set up by the Australian Government
Responses to their survey have been consistent throughout with around 45% of patients saying they are paying up to $500 to $1000 a month for products.
Most survey respondents are on Centrelink payments because of their illness and some have got themselves into debt with family or friends, to enable them to purchase the medicine. Almost half of the prescriptions written have not been filled.
Peter Crock, CEO of the Cann Group and Chairman of Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia reinforces this scenario. He said on abc radio recently that:
“All medicinal cannabis is being imported .. that is what is keeping prices high …. and people are taking the opportunity to make super profits on the way thru.”
Many survey respondents say they have had more than one approval with 20% or respondents saying they have had more than 5 approvals. The dissatisfaction rate with the delivery system is sitting consistently at 86% .
Patient experiences from gathered via the survey include the following, amongst many.
- One MCUS member reported being charged $700 in consultation fees and for product for her father to use as palliative medicine for his final days as he was showing an intolerance for conventional end of life drugs. The medicine was delivered late, a 6 weeks supply of cannabis oil with an expiry date of October 2019; and then the supplier charged $50 to tell the member how to administer & dosage amount . Then after that charge to be told the family GP would need to sign it off before the prescription could be administered.
- Another writes, I’m worried my cannabis clinic is taking me for a ride. My appointments initially cost $100. Then my first batch of tilray was 25mg thc:25mg cbd. I have to buy it in 2 bottles of 25ml otherwise I have to pay an excess of $50 for shipping. My first script cost was $633.30 for the 50ml I received. The next time I needed an order it cost $330.30 for 50ml of the same script.
- Another patient said she recently applied for the legal version, knowing full well it was above and beyond what she can afford. The initial appointment cost $200 with $59 for any subsequent scripts, $80 for follow-up appointment and $59 whenever the patient has have to adjust dose or product.
MCUA President, Deb Lynch, is currently waiting for a trial date after being arrested and charged for self supply following many attempts to acquire a prescription through Qld Health, whose doctors have been advised not to prescribe cannabis under public hospital policy. Being on a disability pension, there is no way she says she can afford the costs involved in getting a script from one of these corporate cannabis clinics.
The MCUA is still seeking patients who have been through the legal process to fill in their customer satisfaction survey (https://surveyhero.com/c/55e2c285) which will be going to the Federal Senate, via ALP Senator Anne Urquhart along with their current petition to them asking for a full review of the delivery system put in place by the LNP.
To contact the MCUA please go to https://www.mcuainc.org.au/