Patients in the UK who are prescribed cannabis-based medicines will be able to get their treatment in days rather than months, according to an announcement from the Home Office.
Thanks to changes in import restrictions licensed wholesalers can now import larger quantities of products, and hold supplies in stock. People with prescriptions for cannabis-based products will be able to access medicine in days, rather than months. Previously, only amounts required for individual prescriptions could be imported, with no bulk ordering or holding of supplies.
Most cannabis-based medicines are imported from foreign countries such as Canada and The Netherlands. Export restrictions mean it can take weeks or months for the drugs to reach the patients in the UK. In Canada for example, an export certificate can take 4 to 8 weeks.
The news was welcomed by campaigners hoping to improve patients access to cannabis. Speaking to the BBC Jonathan Blades, head of campaigns and external relations at the MS Society, said a large number of patients were being forced to turn to illegal, often unsafe, forms of cannabis to treat their symptoms, and that more needed to be done to overcome “unnecessary impediments” for patients in need of treatment.
A long way to go
It has been some time rules were relaxed to allow cannabis-based medicines to be prescribed to UK patients by specialist doctors, but uptake in prescriptions by doctors has been painfully slow. In November last year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended 2 cannabis-based medicinal products for patients with multiple sclerosis and hard-to-treat epilepsies, but only when all other treatment options had been exhausted. As a result, few prescriptions have been made on the NHS, and private clinics remain prohibitively expensive for most patients.
Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary said:
“Every time I meet the families of young people dealing so bravely with childhood epilepsy, I am reminded of just how much they have been through. The changes made today are a tremendous step towards improving the supply of cannabis-based medicinal products by helping to ensure quicker and more reliable access for patients.”
“But we still have a long way to go. We need more research into the quality and safety of these medicines, and to do all we can to cut down the costs and remove barriers so that, when appropriate, patients can access it, including on the NHS.”