Today the Government has announced new measures which are being put in place to improve patient access to medical cannabis. The steps being taken will allow for patients to receive the required medication in a matter of days, whereas previously the wait time was months.

The key takeaways from the announcement are that:

  • Cannabis can be imported faster into the United Kingdom
  • Companies can import larger quantities of medical cannabis
  • Cannabis-based medicines can be stored in the country allowing easier access

 The joint statement released by the Department of Health and Social Care and the Home Office can be read in full below.

FASTER ACCESS TO CANNABIS-BASED MEDICINES FOR PATIENTS THANKS TO CHANGES TO IMPORTING RESTRICTIONS

  • Companies given green light to import cannabis-based medicines into the UK in advance of prescriptions
  • Measure will mean patients with a prescription can receive treatment in days, rather than months
  • Costs will be reduced for companies importing and savings passed on to patients

Patients prescribed cannabis-based medicines will be able to get their treatment in days rather than months as rules on importing medicines have today been changed, the Government has announced.

Companies will now be able to import cannabis-based products for medicinal use in advance into the UK, and will be able to hold supplies that can be given to patients with prescriptions via a pharmacy.

Patients with conditions like rare, serious forms of epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, for example, will be able to access their prescribed medicines quicker. This step will help to ensure treatment is not interrupted and significantly improve the quality of life for those currently facing treatment delays.

Most cannabis-based medicines are imported from foreign countries, with export restrictions meaning it can take weeks or even months for the drugs to reach the patients that need them in the UK. For example, in Canada, an export certificate to send cannabis-based medicines to the UK can take between four to eight weeks.

Safeguards against addiction and the misuse of drugs mean that prescriptions for unlicensed medicines, like medicinal cannabis, are reviewed every 30 days by specialist doctors, which can lead to the risk of delays in treatment for patients where there are delays to imports.

The Government is committed to ensuring quick, uninterrupted access to cannabis-based medicinal products, where clinically appropriate, and is working with industry on exploring further actions to be taken to reduce costs and encourage more much-needed research in this area.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock 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.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“I have taken swift action to allow specialist doctors to issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicinal products, when they consider their patients would benefit from this treatment.

“This will allow patients and their families with challenging conditions to access them more easily, when appropriate, to ensure they can be treated in days, not months”.

Today, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Health Minister Jo Churchill met with campaigners and industry to discuss how the costs of unlicensed cannabis-based medicinal products can be further reduced for patients.

The Government will also continue to engage with medical associations and patients on building an evidence base using trials in the UK to accelerate our understanding of how medicinal cannabis can benefit patients, which is necessary for wider prescribing by NHS clinicians in future.

The latest action follows our historic law change in October 2018 to allow specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use where clinically appropriate in the UK.

In November last year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also recommended two cannabis-based medicinal products for patients with multiple sclerosis and hard-to-treat epilepsies.

The Department of Health and Social Care continues to work closely with NHS England-NHS Improvement (NHSE-I) and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to establish clinical trials to develop the evidence base to support further commissioning decisions.

Dr Andy Yates, Pharmacy Lead at the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, said:

“Today’s announcement will be warmly welcomed by patients, carers, and clinicians alike. It’s crucial as we build the evidence required to realise the potential of cannabis-based medicinal products that there are no unnecessary impediments to accessing prescriptions.

“We are grateful that the Government has listened to the valid concerns expressed by our members and responded with measures that will immediately improve access to these novel medicines and accelerate clinical understanding of their use. We look forward to working on the finer details of how this can now be implemented.”

Notes to editors:

  • The measures will be implemented by the Home Office and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) from today,
  • The amount of supply notified to the MHRA for import would be based on an assessment of likely need by a doctor on the Specialist register. The supply would then be drawn from when a prescription is given from a specialist doctor.
  • The latest National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend Sativex to treat moderate to severe spasticity in adults with multiple sclerosis and Epidyolex in combination with clobazam for the treatment of seizures associated with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
  • The guidelines demonstrate a clear need for more evidence to support prescribing and funding decisions and we are working hard with the health system, industry and researchers to improve the knowledge base available.
  • The Department of Health and Social Care continues to work closely with NHS England-NHS Improvement (NHSE-I) and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to establish clinical trials to develop the evidence base to support further commissioning decisions.
  • Health Education England has published an e-learning package to support clinicians across the UK in making prescribing decisions.
  • A specialist network has been set up by NHSE&I to support prescribers wanting to prescribe cannabis-based medicines and NHSE&I are developing a registry so that we can learn from patient experience.
  • Cannabis remains a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and as such, it is unlawful to possess, supply, produce, import or export this drug except under a Home Office licence. It is also an offence to cultivate any plant of the genus cannabis except under a Home Office licence.

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