The UK’s National Health Service serves over one million people every day-and-a-half, a formational source of health care in a country with a population of less than 55 million. Many of those individuals suffer from a condition entailing chronic pain, which since October, qualifies them for a doctor’s recommendation for medicinal cannabis. But some residents have reported seeing troubling literature at Royal Derby Hospital, saying that clinical staff will not recommend medical cannabis to chronic pain patients due to “the risk of serious side effects.”
Medical marijuana has been legal in England since October, when Sajid Javid of Home Secretary reclassified the drug to Schedule II. The policy shift took place months after Billy Caldwell, a then 12-year-old epilepsy patient, was hospitalized after officials took away his medical cannabis.
Jon Liebling, the United Patients Alliance political director, told VICE News that the posters are congruent with reports they’ve been hearing from people seeking medical cannabis treatment for their pain issues. “We have seen patients being effectively banned from NHS Trust hospitals and this is yet another example of how much the medical profession have to learn.”
Staff from the pain management clinic at Royal Derby Hospital openly acknowledged that such a restrictive policy was in place, saying the risk of a patient harming themselves with cannabis outweighs the benefits the drug can provide.
A spokesperson told a reporter that current scientific evidence is unconvincing when it comes to its role in pain management. “We would welcome high-quality studies into the use of cannabis-based medicinal products for pain treatment.”
In the UK, medical cannabis is hypothetically legally available in the form of cannabis-derived THC oil (non-THC CBD oils are legal and widely available.) Patients are required to have a qualifying health condition such as epilepsy, MS, chronic pain, nausea, or symptoms related to cancer and chronic pain. Epilepsy is of primary concern in the country, where an estimated 1 of every 100 residents is affected by the condition.
Hospitals denying patients with qualifying conditions access to cannabis runs contrary to the recommendations of the UK’s Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, which issued a report in July suggesting cannabis be rescheduled and made available to medical patients. This is what eventually influenced Javid’s decision to reclassify the substance.
Before THC-oil legalization, the saga of Caldwell’s family became another global story about patients causing (and demanding) policy change. Another young boy named Alfie Dingley was forced to move to the Netherlands with his family to gain access to medicinal cannabis. The family had to return to England when they were no longer able to pay for life abroad. Luckily, they were able to gain an audience with Prime Minister Theresa May, which ignited an outpouring of public support for Dingley’s case.
Liebling did not spare his feelings when addressing the issue. ”For the estimated 1.1 million medical cannabis patients in the UK, this just isn’t good enough,” he said. “Our NHS, and all doctors have a duty of care, which many seem to be neglecting at the moment.”