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Easier access to medical cannabis in UK will only benefit a ‘few people’, says NHS England

New legislation making it easier to access medical cannabis will only benefit a few patients, NHS England has said.

NHS England revealed that legal cannabis-based medicines are likely to be made available to “very few people”, including children suffering from rare, severe forms of epilepsy and adults with chemotherapy-induced vomiting, nausea and chronic pain.

The Home Office on 1 November made medical cannabis available on the NHS in certain cases, following “heartbreaking cases involving sick children”, home secretary Sajid Javid said.

NHS England said that “very few people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis”.

In a letter sent to GPs on 31 October, the organisation wrote: “NHS England expects that cannabis-based products for medicinal use should only be prescribed for indications where there is clear published evidence of benefit or UK guidelines and in patients where there is a clinical need that cannot be met by a licensed medicine and where established treatment options have been exhausted.

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“As with any unlicensed medicines or specials, the prescribing of such products must be on a “named patient” basis. It is therefore expected that rigorous and auditable safeguards around prescribing of an unlicensed product will be followed, alongside existing protocols on controlled drugs.”

NHS England added that only specialist doctors listed on the General Medical Council (GMC) register will be authorised to prescribe medical cannabis.

The charity the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society argued the interim guidance on medical cannabis should be “urgently reviewed” so that access to it is not so “heavily restricted”.

MS Society director of external affairs Genevieve Edwards said: While we’re pleased that the Government moved quickly to change the law, the guidance published appears to ignore the clear evidence provided by the chief medical officer [Dame Sally Davies].

“For this change to have a real impact, everyone who could benefit must be given access in a safe, responsible and fair way, with specialist doctors properly supported to make decisions around prescribing.”

NHS England said that current evidence on the benefit of medical cannabis on certain long-term pain is not “strong enough” for cannabis-based products to be recommended for pain relief.