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Medical Cannabis Under Prescription

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:09 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 8:09 pm, 20th May 2019

This has been a very moving and important debate. As I know from my own constituency, and as has been outlined with such passion by Members on both sides of the House, this matter leads to great distress for patients and their families. I recognise the deep frustration of families and patients, which has come across strongly this evening. All of us who are parents or who have cared for a loved one can empathise with them. I pay tribute to Andy McDonald and his wife Sally, who shared their experience with us. It is them and parents like them whom we are concentrating on this evening.

It would be remiss of me not to mention my right hon. Friend Sir Mike Penning and Tonia Antoniazzi, all their work on the all-party group and their tenacity in keeping this issue on the agenda. Many points have been raised. Great frustration has been expressed and I have heard that. I will be speaking to the Secretary of State again and taking back all the messages to the officials, but I will try in my remarks to answer the points made.

In November last year, the law was changed to ensure that doctors on the specialist register of the General Medical Council can legally prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use in the UK. It is right that we put these decisions in the hands of clinicians because they are the ones with the best knowledge of all the treatments available for conditions in which they specialise. The Secretary of State and I have been clear that whether to prescribe must remain a clinical decision, to be made with patients and their families, taking into account the best available international clinical evidence—I want to reassure the House that we are in close contact with colleagues in other countries to ensure that we learn from their experiences—and the circumstances of each patient.

It is not for me as a politician to second-guess or pillory clinicians’ decisions. I was alarmed to hear my hon. Friend James Cartlidge say that doctors are being trolled for the decisions they are or are not making. They have the best interests of their patients at heart and their primary focus is to do no harm. But I recognise that we do not have the optimal system in place yet. It is undesirable that patients are travelling abroad. The Secretary of State and I are determined to do everything we can to ensure that patients can obtain medicines in this country if it is medically appropriate. There are already systems in place to do that and I want to do everything I can to understand why patients are not using those systems to access medicines here in the UK.

We want to continue to refine the system so that the demands of patients who want to try medicinal cannabis are balanced against other demands on NHS funding. Given the embryonic state of the evidence base on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of medicinal cannabis, that is not easy. However, we are working hard to ensure we get this right, because it is crucial. I have had many discussions about this with my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt, who spoke with great passion. He mentioned the need for more evidence and the issue of growing a market. We will explore that with the Department for International Trade.

I want to pick up on a point that my hon. Friend John Howell made about the number of prescriptions issued since November last year. Data show that, until the end of February, there had been six items issued in the community under NHS prescription. He thought there were none at all.