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Three NHS prescriptions for medical cannabis dispensed in the community

The NHS Business Services Authority has confirmed that NHS presciptions for medical cannabis were dispensed for use in primary care, despite saying in March 2019 that it had no intention to publish prescribing information owing to concerns about patient confidentiality.

The NHS has confirmed that three prescriptions for medical cannabis were dispensed for use in primary care in January and February 2019.

Responding to a written question from Jo Stevens, Labour Party MP, on 13 May 2019, Seema Kennedy, parliamentary under secretary for health and social care, said data from the NHS Business Services Authority (BSA) for January and February 2019 “suggest that three NHS prescriptions were dispensed for unlicensed cannabis-based products for medicinal use in primary care in England during this time”.

She added that the NHS BSA, which also reported that ten private prescriptions for medical cannabis were dispensed in the same time period, only collects information on prescriptions issued in primary care. This means its data do not include any prescriptions issued or dispensed in hospitals or other secondary care environments.

The NHS BSA confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal on 17 May 2019 that these figures are correct.

However, in March 2019, the NHS BSA said that it had no intention to publish prescribing data for medical cannabis, as such low prescribing figures increased the risk of individual patients being identified if the data were combined with other information in the public domain.

The medical use of cannabis-based products was legalised on 1 November 2018 but patients have repeatedly complained about a lack of NHS prescriptions for the drug.

Currently, cannabis-based medical products can only be prescribed as “specials”, issued on a case-by-case basis by a consultant doctor listed on the General Medical Council’s specialist register. 

On 8 April 2019, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he had asked NHS England to investigate and address “barriers to clinically appropriate prescribing” of medical cannabis.

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, told the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee in March 2019 that the pharmaceutical industry should fund randomised controlled trials of medical cannabis, so that patients can get faster access to licensed products.


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206560

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