Documentary Shows 'pot luck' of NHS Cannabis Access.

Liz Filmer
24 Sep 2023

Five years since medical cannabis was legalised in the UK, a new BBC documentary has accused the government of misleading the public over its availability on the NHS.

Since medicinal legalisation in 2018, less than five prescriptions for unlicensed cannabis medicines have been made through the NHS.

The same request revealed that between November 2018 and November 2022, over 140,000 prescriptions were issued privately between November 2018 and November 2022, with around 30,000 people now believed to have been prescribed the treatment in total.

Hannah Deacon's son Alfie Dingley famously became the first child in the UK to be given a full licence for whole-plant cannabis via the NHS in 2018.

Alfie, who in the documentary is shown taking cannabis oil at breakfast, has now been seizure-free for over three years. Ms Deacon is shown in the documentary reflecting on how minimal change has been since her son could obtain his prescription.

"I felt my son's legacy was that millions of people would now get access to his treatment, which was a wonderful feeling. They changed the law to take the wind out of my sails because the campaign was very effective. All parents who are now trying to get access to their children's epilepsy are blocked at every turn. It broke my heart."

The documentary also talks to patients who have been prescribed cannabis via a private clinic but are facing a continuous struggle today for it.

One, a survivor of Breast Cancer, explains how cannabis helps manage the nerve pain she experiences following 14 operations. She reveals, however, that she is often forced to choose between affording the basics, such as food or accessing her medication.

From a doctor's perspective, however, the documentary examines how they feel that they have been put in a difficult position by the law change. Experts claim that it was misleading of the government to legalise medical cannabis without ensuring the proper infrastructure and regulations to allow doctors to prescribe.

Dr David McCormick, a King's College London paediatric consultant, said it left doctors like himself in a 'difficult position'.

"The message went out that doctors can now prescribe cannabis-based medicinal products, but as doctors, that has left us in a difficult position because, the truth is that we need to get the cannabis approved by the NHS. I would like to see better evidence for their efficacy and safety; I don't feel the proof exists": Dr David McCormick, King's College London paediatric consultant.

Dr McCormick went on to say that it leaves doctors in a difficult position in that these products are not available within the NHS, accessible to those who need them.

Professor David Nutt, the former advisor on drugs to the government, described some barriers preventing doctors from prescribing. He said that two things must happen before a doctor prescribes a medicine. Those two things are the completion of a trial by the drug company, which tells them that the treatment is safe because they've got a licence, and that NICE issues guidelines to say it's cost-effective. In the case of medical cannabis, neither of these things has happened so far.

The current situation is described as 'outrageous', and by permitting specialist consultants only to prescribe and not GPs at the primary care end of the health service, the situation is worse, and access is further limited.

The documentary "Cannabis: Prescription Pot Luck" is available to watch on BBC IPlayer.

More on this topic from Soft Secrets:

Kids and Medical Cannabis, the law

Medicinal cannabis, the pros and cons

Study on prescribing cannabis on the NHS


Liz Filmer