A Manchester MP’s bid to open up cannabis treatments on the NHS has been blocked by Tory backbenchers in the House of Commons.
'A monumental shame'. @AndyMcDonaldMP continuing to highlight how families continue to be passed from pillar to post as the Government fail to continue to tackle the necessary barriers to widen access to life-saving #medicalcannabis prescriptions. pic.twitter.com/hACy4b79yH
— End Our Pain (@End_Our_Pain) December 10, 2021
Despite the Government legalising medicinal cannabis in 2018, following a number of high-profile campaigns, thousands of people are still being denied access to the treatment.
Only three prescriptions have been provided on the NHS in the last three years, leaving some families with no choice but to get private prescriptions, which can cost up to £2,000 a month.
It has has left many families forced to rely on crowdfunding to be able to pay for their children’s life-changing treatment.
Withington MP Jeff Smith, speaking in the Commons, said “this has gone on too long”.
He added: “Significant numbers of people who would benefit from being prescribed medical cannabis on the NHS aren’t able to get the prescriptions that they need.”
Putting forward a Private Member’s Bill, the MP said one of his constituents was having to fork out almost £700 a month for their grandson’s medicine.
“Families of patients in the most urgent need often have to resort to support from crowdfunding or from individual donors to keep their medicine going.
And really patients having to crowdfund for private-prescribed medicine because they can’t get it on the NHS is just not right in this country.”
Mr Smith’s Bill 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.
He added: “What my Bill proposes today is that we set up a commission to propose a framework for the assessment of cannabis-based medicines and their suitability for prescription in England to sit alongside the existing MHRA processes for conventional pharmaceutical drugs.”
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Introducing the medical cannabis (access) bill today, Smith said it would mean “significant numbers of people who would benefit from being prescribed medical cannabis on the NHS aren’t able to get the prescriptions that they need”.
Today was the ‘second reading’ of the bill, which is where MPs debate its principles. Conservative MPs filibustered until the debate ran out of time, thereby blocking the vote, meaning that the bill will not proceed.
Convention dictates that the minister will respond to points made in the discussion at the end of the debate but Tory MPs talked for so long that the government did not have time to contribute. Backbench Tory Sally-Ann Hart spoke for more than 50 minutes.
Labour MP John Spellar asked the Deputy Speaker whether there was any way to put on the record that this “immensely popular bill” has been blocked by a “government whip when the government still has not produced their own bill”.
The government legalised medical cannabis in 2018 after several high-profile campaigns by families with children with severe intractable epilepsy. Just 3% of prescriptions issued over the past three years are thought to have been provided on the NHS, however.
With private prescriptions costing between £1,500 and £2,000 a month, many families are forced to rely on crowdfunding to cover the bill for their treatment. Smith’s proposed legislation attempted to tackle this problem.
His bill would have created a register of GPs to complete training to make them eligible to prescribe medical cannabis. Currently, the medicine is prescribed by specialist doctors. It would have also set up a commission to propose a framework for the assessment of cannabis-based medicines for licensing.
Andy McDonald made an impassioned call for Conservative MPs not to ‘talk out’ the legislation today, as they had been instructed by the government to do. He recounted his experience of losing his son to epilepsy.
“I don’t know whether medical cannabis would have helped him, had we even known about it at the time. But I will do everything I can to assist families in their determination to get the medication that their children need,” he said.
“I recall so vividly calling the ambulance and having him whisked off to hospital, where the consultant told us that we’d better call a priest. And then for all of us – my wife Sally, my son Paddy and my daughter Rosie – holding Rory as he died.
“I never want to have any of those families suffer such an outcome. I just bitterly regret that I have not shown the courage and the determination of people like Hannah Deacon in securing that medication for her child.”
Deacon’s son was the first NHS patient given a long-term licence for medicinal cannabis in 2018. Just three such prescriptions have been issued since then. Deacon recently urged Sajid Javid to ensure that more families can benefit.