My Lords, I am really grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Field, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Walmsley, for sponsoring this amendment and for the powerful speeches they have given.
Last week, I heard Hannah Deacon talk on the “Today” programme about her son Alfie and the devastating consequences of Brexit and the impact of the inability to import Bedrocan from Holland. I know the Government have been active, and I very much hope the Minister will be able to report progress tonight.
That is the immediate issue, but of course there is then the long-standing issue that, when Parliament agreed to the legalisation of medical cannabis under prescription, there was a distinct impression that NHS patients would receive medical cannabis where appropriate. It is very clear that the NHS is not prepared to do that. The small number of prescriptions and the approach of the various bodies that advise the health service on commissioning make it abundantly clear that, unless Ministers intervene, patients will simply not be able to get these products in a legal way.
I say to Ministers that, with the campaigns, it is obvious there will be increasing noise, increasing concern. They really will have to step in and find a way of getting access to these products for patients. It is inevitable that it will happen, and it is better than they do this now rather than wait for another three, four or five years. I remind them that, when the legislation went through, the Home Secretary at the time said:
“We have now delivered on our promises … we will work with the NHS to help support specialists in making the right prescribing decisions.”
That simply has not happened.
I suggest four approaches: first, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Cannabis under Prescription believes that the only way to help families at the moment, and to make sure the policy does not stall completely, is to set up a small fund called something like the medical cannabis access fund, which can be used to help those families, until the blockage on NHS prescription eases.
Secondly, we have to come to the issue of research. I know the Minister is frustrated—he repeated this today—because he thinks the companies producing these products should come forward and undertake clinical trials and tests. I am not an expert, but I have listened very carefully to noble Lords and to advice that I have received, which suggests that randomised control trials are very difficult in this area. In that case, surely the Government should revisit the NHS England report, Barriers to Accessing Cannabis-based Products for Medicinal Use on NHS Prescriptions. The report looked at the issue of research, and said that there should be randomised controlled trials but, alongside this:
“NHS England and NHS Improvement and NIHR in conjunction with the specialist network will work together to determine an appropriate alternative study design that will enable evidence generation for those patients who cannot be enrolled into a standard RCT.”
I gather that this has not happened. The Minister really should inquire into this. It would basically be an observational study; it would allow medical cannabis to be prescribed for large numbers of people and for proper research to be undertaken. I suggest to him that it would be a way forward, so that the current frustration of so many patients is responded to in a sympathetic but also practical way.