NHS guidelines on prescription cannabis to be challenged in court

pharmafile | August 18, 2020 | News story | Manufacturing and Production, Research and Development CBD, cannabis, epilepsy 

The cannabis guidelines followed by the NHS are set to be challenged in court by the parents of a three-year-old boy with severe epilepsy.

Matt and Ali Hughes treat their son Charlie with cannabis oil, which they buy privately, and it has reduced their son’s seizures from 120 a day to fewer than 20. Previously, the couple had given Charlie six different types of anti-epileptic drugs but they saw no improvement in his condition.

After taking the cannabis oil, Charlie began to feed himself and play with his toys, while also being more vocal in his communication. Brain scans also showed a significant reduction of brain activity associated with seizures.

However, they could not receive any prescription for the oil on the NHS, and the family say they will only be able to afford another six months of medication without a prescription. They currently pay between £1,000 and £3,000 a month for the oil. 

The current NHS guidelines on cannabis treatments were produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and they state that there is not enough evidence to recommend cannabis-based medicines for severe and treatment-resistant epilepsy. 

Cannabis-based medicines were made legal in 2018 and patients can be prescribed them when their doctor recognises other drugs do not help their conditions. The Hughes family’s legal team believe that NHS doctors have not felt comfortable prescribing cannabis oil for Charlie due to the lack of positive recommendation by NICE. 

The legal case alleges that NICE did not have adequate consultation when they created the cannabis guidelines and failed to recognise all the relevant evidence for the plant’s medical benefits to patients with a variety of conditions. The legal team also say the current guidance is “too cautious”, meaning most children who need it are not being prescribed medical cannabis by the NHS. 

A High Court judge has accepted the legal challenge on the grounds the family presented.

Commenting on the upcoming court challenge, Matt Hughes said: “This is an important step in our ongoing fight for our son Charlie to receive the medicine he needs on the NHS. NICE will now have to explain and justify in the High Court the guideline which prevents Charlie, and others like him, from being prescribed cannabis-based medicinal products which help to control his rare form of epilepsy.”

Conor Kavanagh

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