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Medical Cannabis Under Prescription

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:29 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead 8:29 pm, 20th May 2019

Not only was I enormously proud when I went before the Backbench Business Committee to ask for this debate last Tuesday, but I was a bit shocked to get the debate this afternoon—at least we have not had to go home early. We have had an absolutely brilliant debate.

To be honest with the Minister, I am not sure how far this has taken us. Fundamentally, I have an issue with the fact that there are families who, through crowdfunding, or however they fund it—I understand that some parents have had to remortgage—are getting this drug for their children perfectly legally, and qualified consultants and specialists are issuing prescriptions on the NHS, but they are not being honoured. That is something that the Department of Health and Social Care is wholly responsible for. I fully accept that there are other issues to do with the Home Office.

Many people have been marched up to the top of the hill. I accept that for many years, when Paul Flynn was campaigning on this and a Government of a different colour were in office, it did not happen because it was in the “too difficult” pile called schedule 1. We are not in that position now; we are in a position where this House—we have now debated this issue for four and a half hours—can tell the country and the Government that what is happening now, with people who can afford it getting this medicine and those who cannot afford it not getting it, has to stop. This Government have to stop that.

I know how difficult it is. I was the Home Office Minister responsible when this was discussed. I was the Minister who stood at the Dispatch Box. I know the blockages. I have sat with my APPG co-chair, Tonia Antoniazzi, and the NHS chief pharmacist. We know that we need to unblock this. We need to believe that the NHS, free at the point of delivery, will deliver for these young families, and that the cheque book is not going to win.

I will raise money and crowdfund, because I will do anything I possibly can to help, but we should not have to do that. The medical evidence is there from other countries. We are going to have to make exceptions, as has been said, because this situation is different. We cannot put one of these children on a placebo, because we know that it will make them really ill when they withdraw from what they have already been given.

The children who have been given this product, and some adults, as in my constituent’s case, need to have confidence going forward. They do not need to beg, borrow and steal to get their lives back on track—and they will not be put back on track fully, because this is not a cure, it just eliminates some symptoms for some people with some conditions. We really do not know the full position yet because, as the Minister has said, we have to do more work. However, in quite a lot of specific cases of paediatric epilepsy with seizures, it appears that cannabis oil makes a difference to the quality of people’s lives. We were sent here not to chat for the sake of it, but to make a difference to people’s lives, and I hope that is exactly what the Minister will do.

Finally, I will clearly not get another urgent question for a while, but Mr Speaker said to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care that we will persist. He was referring to me, but I say that on behalf of the all-party group, which now has over 100 members. This is what this House is good at, and if we get it right we are very good at it. This has been an excellent debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
reaffirms its welcome for the change in the law that allows access to medical cannabis under prescription, but notes that only a handful of prescriptions for whole-plant-extract medical cannabis have been issued on the NHS, which has left a significant number of patients, many of whom are children with intractable epilepsy, with no access to medical cannabis and experiencing severe distress;
and calls on the Government immediately to act to ensure that medical cannabis is available to appropriate patients and in particular to children suffering severe intractable epilepsy, such as Alfie Dingley whose plight and campaign did so much to secure the change in the law.