Medicinal cannabis can now be prescribed by specialists for epilepsy
Specialist doctors can now prescribe medicinal cannabis for epilepsy (1 November 2018)
Specialist doctors in the UK will be able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines from 1 November, now a change in the law has been laid in Parliament.
There will be no restriction on the types of conditions that can be considered for treatment with medicinal cannabis, paving the way for people with epilepsy as well as other neurological conditions to be prescribed the medication. It will be the responsibility of the specialist doctor to prescribe the products where they feel there is a real need.
Government responds to pressure from families
The change in the law comes just months after Home Secretary Sajid Javid responded to concerns from the parents of children with severe epilepsy, including Charlotte Caldwell, mother of Billy Caldwell, and Hannah Deacon, mother of Alfie Dingley.
Until now, doctors were required to seek approval from an expert panel before patients could access the medications. From 1 November, this will no longer be a requirement.
The decision to prescribe the unlicensed medicines will be the responsibility of doctors with a focus on a specific field of medicine such as neurology or paediatrics. They must also be listed on the General Medical Council's specialist register.
Decisions on prescribing cannabis-based products for medicinal use must be made on a case-by-case basis, and only when the patient has an unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products.
The Home Office has said that all those under a specialist should discuss their treatment plan with them.
NHS England, the British Paediatric Neurology Association and the Royal College of Physicians will provide clinical advice to doctors ahead of the law change. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has been commissioned to develop more detailed guidelines for clinicians in the longer term. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has promised to work with the NHS to support specialists in making the right prescribing decisions.
The Home Secretary has made it clear that the announcement around medicinal cannabis does not pave the way towards legalising cannabis for recreational use. The penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged.
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