Thousands of patients are being refused access to cannabis treatment which “could greatly improve their quality of life”, an organisation fighting multiple sclerosis has said.
The incurable condition – which affects the brain and nerves and causes a range of symptoms including muscle spasms, pain and tiredness – can be managed with the help of a cannabis-based spray.
But despite the treatment – Savitex – being approved for NHS use in England more than two years ago, many patients are still being denied access to it, the MS Society said.
A study carried out by the charity revealed that just 49 out of 106 clinical commissioning groups in England offer the treatment – and only 630 out of around 4,800 eligible patients get access to it.
“This means that thousands of people with MS could be missing out on a treatment that’s safe, effective and could greatly improve their quality of life,” researchers said.
‘I can’t go on like this’
The charity said multiple sclerosis patients are often forced into paying privately for the treatment, which costs around £500 – almost double what it would cost the NHS. Some also resort to buying cannabis illegally to help them cope.
Chris Todd, from Hull, who suffers from relapsing MS since 1999, told PA that he has “not had a proper night’s sleep in years”.
He said he tried every medication to help with spasms but they either did not work or gave him bad side effects. “It is so frustrating that there is a treatment which could completely change our lives, but we can’t get it.
“How much longer are we going to have to wait? Sativex was approved two years ago and yet nothing has changed. I can’t go on like this.”
His wife, Anne, who also suffers from the condition, said Savitex “changes people’s lives” and feels “like someone somewhere has something against her” for not letting her get hold of the spray.
The MS Society is calling on clinical commissioning groups across England to end the “postcode lottery” of care and make Sativex available for everyone who meets the NHS criteria.
Fredi Cavander-Attwood, policy manager at the MS Society, said it is “completely unacceptable” that only a third of the health areas in England have Savitex two years after it was approved.
“MS can be relentless, painful and disabling, and getting the treatment you need shouldn’t be a game of chance. Sativex doesn’t work for everyone with MS, but when it does work, the impact can be life changing,” he told PA.
In July 2019, a group of cross-party MPs predicted the UK will completely legalise cannabis use by 2034.
Cannabis is currently illegal for recreational use in the UK, although it can be prescribed for medicinal purposes.