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It can be done if it is given to patients at the right time and in the right manner. Part of the reason why clinicians are possibly nervous about prescribing these drugs is that additional thresholds have been added to doing so. There is an extra nervousness, particularly with new drugs, as we require their use to be based on already pre-existing proven evidence.
Earlier, I mentioned what had happened with other life-threatening diseases, such as HIV, and what had happened at other times. We have now changed, relaxed and modified the rules around testing, but that was not done immediately. Those who remember will know that there was a vociferous campaign from people, particularly in America but also here in Britain, aboutnd the folly of this requirement for pre-existing medical knowledge. The shift was to look at harm: what is the harm done to not trial and not implement anything versus what is the harm done of any potential risks. In this case, we need to employ that kind of sense. Back then, it was not the clinicians or the Government who shifted the issue; the shift was achieved through the fantastic work of campaigners.
We are again seeing that fantastic work of campaigners. They may need the drug themselves, or one of their family may need the drug, and so they are having to push this debate. It is frustrating to some extent that we have not learned the lessons of previous eras when this issue was argued out. In fact, time and again, the issue has been won on the side of prescribing. Why this time are we coming down on the wrong side of the argument? What is it about cannabis that suddenly sets off some kind of alarm bell in the heads of Ministers or civil servants so that we create a system that is not particularly conducive to prescribing?
I am bemused by the current situation in which, for some reason, private prescriptions are acceptable—others have talked about this—and seem to be getting through if people can raise the right amount of money, but our NHS is not able to reflect that. I do not know whether that is a consequence of cuts or of an NHS that is at breaking point. It could be a consequence of commissioners not wanting to prescribe these drugs, which seems strange to me because, when I look at the figures, the cost does not seem too high. It is cheaper than prescribing some other traditional medicines. It seems to me therefore that this is not an austerity issue, which we know is a bigger problem in the NHS, but some other hidden force, which means that parents need to raise thousands and thousands of pounds to try to get private prescriptions and self-prescribe.
I would like to slightly widen the debate from children, on whom we have quite rightly focused, to some of my constituents who are adults in chronic pain. Although it is right that, through the story of a child, we can push this issue forward, the fact is that this drug could help millions who, as we have heard earlier, may already be self-prescribing with cannabis. Self-prescribing is not good for a person’s long-term health or for the state of healthcare. Doctors who are trying to provide them with holistic and rounded care cannot fully do so if people are having to go off and self-prescribe elsewhere.
United Patients Alliance is very active across the UK, but particularly in my constituency. One of my constituents, a 42-year-old man, was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome in October 2006. If he took conventional medication, he would be expected to take 10 ml of oral morphine a day, which is a huge amount. It means that his actual life quality is completely reduced. He is as not as cognisant as he should be or as able to interact and hold down a job. With the head of the pain clinic at St Thomas’s hospital, he has discussed moving on to medical cannabis. They have even said that it would be a real possibility, but they believe that the hurdles are too high for them to be able to prescribe it now. He has now resorted to getting medical cannabis from other sources—to some extent involving his doctor or his clinician and creating a network of people having almost to lie and deceive the state. It is a bizarre situation. We end up making people do things in hushed conversations, rather than being able to record things properly in medical records.
This absurdity must end. We thought that it had ended. My view is that the schedulisation of drugs should not fall under the remit of the Home Office; it should be in the Department of Health and Social Care. It makes no sense for scheduling to be anywhere near the Home Office, because it should be based on medical evidence—the Home Office should, of course, decide on classification. The Department of Health and Social Care needs to make some real moves very quickly to demonstrate that this has not all been hot words and big let downs.