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Epilepsy: Cannabis

Department of Health and Social Care written question – answered on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what steps his Department is taking to support research into cannabis-based medicines for epilepsy.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of including cannabis-based medicines in the remit of the proposed Innovative Medicines Fund.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what progress his Department has made on implementing the recommendations contained in the report published by NHS England and NHS Improvement, entitled Barriers to accessing cannabis-based products for medicinal use on NHS prescription, published in March 2019.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what steps he is taking to improve access to (a) cannabis-based medicines and (b) unlicensed medicinal products for children with severe and treatment-resistant conditions where clinically appropriate.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Holding answer received on 15 June 2020

Guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) demonstrate a clear need for more evidence to support routine prescribing and funding decisions of cannabis-based medicines for severe treatment resistant epilepsy and other conditions. We are working hard with the health system, industry and researchers to improve the knowledge base available. The link to the guidance can be found at the following link:

https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng144

Central to this, NHS England and NHS Improvement are working closely with partners to deliver the recommendations from the NHS process evaluation report entitled ‘Barriers to Accessing Cannabis Based Products for Medicinal Use’. Progress has been made as follows:

- On 20 December 2019 a letter was published reminding prescribers of General Medical Council guidance on the prescribing and use of unlicensed medicines – and to clarify the procedure for prescribing and supplying cannabis-based products for medicinal use. This complements training material put in place by Health Education England for all healthcare professionals. A link to the letter can be found at the following link:

https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/guidance-prescribing-cannabis-based-products-medicinal-use.pdf

- To support research, the National Institute for Health Research has run two research calls for applications on medicinal cannabis for epilepsy. Following these a workshop was held in November 2019 including applicants, NHS England and NHS Improvement, the Department and other research experts on a study for treatment resistant paediatric epilepsy. We expect this to have significantly cut the time required to design a study and gain funding agreement;

- Funding was fast-tracked by NHS England and NHS Improvement and was available from 6 January 2020 for patients who fulfil the criteria for the recently published NICE Technology Appraisals for the use of cannabidiol (Epidyolex) in conjunction with clobazam for adjuvant treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet Syndrome, two rare forms of refractory epilepsies. This will improve access to licensed cannabis-based products for appropriate patients;

- A new Refractory Epilepsy Specialist Clinical Advisory Network was launched in February 2020. This offers timely and evidence-based specialist advice and guidance from a United Kingdom national expert panel to support local discussions in relation to the treatment of refractory epilepsy and suitability of cannabis-based medicines; and

- A patient registry is being developed with input from specialist clinicians and other advisory bodies, to monitor patient outcomes.

We have also changed the Government policy on imports to allow import of cannabis-based medicines in anticipation of prescriptions, since 9 March 2020. This aims to improve continuity of supply for those patients that have been prescribed these products.

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