Medical cannabis under prescription

The time for talking is over

While COVID-19 remains active in our community we are required to make adjustments to our daily routines so we can continue to function to the best of our abilities. But we also have one eye on life after COVID-19 with the promise of a vaccine that can counter the virus. When or even if that will happen, we don’t know, but it is possible and even probable. However, could you imagine being in the position where that vaccine already existed and had been proved to work but we were being denied it. Instead we were told that it was too expensive, and we would have to continue with life as it is, including the risk of contracting the virus and dying. That’s unimaginable, isn’t it? And yet we have a similar situation right now in the United Kingdom. There are people living in the United Kingdom, many of whom are children, with forms of epilepsy that result in damaging seizures day in day out. These seizures can severely restrict their quality of life. Their condition is not curable, but it is treatable. We know this because some have been fortunate enough to access the medicine required to treat their condition. Unfortunately, many have not and in the current climate they are not likely to. Let me be absolutely clear the medicine exists and it can be prescribed and accessed by people living in the United Kingdom, it just isn’t because we have tied ourselves in knots, legally and ethically. Nobody will take responsibility for the chaos, rather they continue to point the finger at each other. If this was COVID-19 with the dangers that carries to all the population, I believe those same people would be working on a solution rather than blocking access to one.  

Two years ago. we changed the schedule for cannabis to include it in the ‘has medical benefit’ criteria. And two years on medical cannabis is still not being accessed on the NHS free by those that need it, with two exceptions. In Northern Ireland Billy Caldwell is having his private prescription paid for by the state and in England, Alfie Dingley is also having his prescription paid for. While absolutely nobody begrudges them their safe, legal, effective supply, many others are less fortunate and are instead being passed from pillar to post. The fact that two children are receiving it only goes to prove that it is possible. The current health systems, operating within the current legal position, can provide medical cannabis free. So why isn’t it?  

I can’t believe it is a lack of motivation. Surely, we don’t need a child to die before we take action. And I refuse to believe it is too expensive. If COVID has taught us anything it’s that when needs must we can take swift effective action and we can find the money required to facilitate change. If it’s not motivation or money is it just incompetence? After all this is not a new situation. We can’t claim to have been blindsided by the current pandemic.  

Whether we like it or not the fact remains that if the individuals that would benefit from medical cannabis had the money, they could legally purchase it. If they don’t have the money then they go without. That is unacceptable.  

What has to happen before the log jam is broken? Does a parent have to publicly cradle a dying child in their arms before common sense prevails and those that can make this happen, do so? We need to focus on the problem and recognise that the solution is staring them in the face. The medicine exists, prescriptions can be provided and if the the funding is made available, then the solution is within our grasp. Two years of promises has served nobody well, warm words have failed to produce the goods, it’s now time for positive, decisive, life changing action.

Ronnie Cowan MP

Vice-chair of All-party parliamentary group on medical cannabis under prescription