Unlicensed medical cannabis prescribing in the private healthcare sector increased by almost 1,000% in a 12-month period, according to figures published by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The health and social care regulator’s report — ‘The safer management of controlled drugs: Annual update 2021‘, published in July 2022 — says that 37,634 cannabis-based medical products (CBMPs) were prescribed by non-NHS healthcare services between January and November 2021, compared with 3,636 over the same period in 2020.
Conversely, in the same time period, NHS prescribing of CBMPs in England was so low that data could not be reported.
“The number of items prescribed within the NHS is so small that this could potentially affect patient confidentiality,” the report says.
On 25 April 2022, in response to a written question on what assessment has been made of the adequacy of access to medicinal cannabis for people who are eligible, pharmacy minister Maria Caulfield said: “Licensed cannabis-based medicines are routinely available on the NHS.
“However, clinical guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence demonstrate a clear need for more evidence to support routine prescribing and funding decisions for unlicensed cannabis-based products for medicinal use. Until that evidence base is built, prescribers will remain reticent to prescribe and no decision can be made by the NHS on routine funding.”
In July 2020, a CQC report revealed that during 2019 — the first year of CBMPs being legally available — 18 NHS prescriptions were issued in England.
Then, in October 2020, the National Institute for Health Research confirmed that no government-funded medical cannabis trials were ongoing, despite a call for applications.
Several private healthcare clinics that are able to supply CBMPs have been established since medicinal cannabis was legalised in November 2018.
At the time the CQC’s latest update was published, there were 15 registered providers of unlicensed CBMPs in England, with more being assessed for registration.
The Sapphire Medical Clinic was the first dedicated medical cannabis clinic in the UK to be registered by the CQC, on 3 October 2019.
Commenting on the recent increase in CBMP prescribing, Simon Erridge, head of research and access at Sapphire Medical Clinics, said: “Since 2020, we’ve seen an 846% growth in patients accessing our specialist service.
“The prescribing of unlicensed cannabis-based medicines via the NHS has not seen the same growth. The most significant reason behind this is the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance released in 2019, which did not show enough clinical benefit versus the costs then associated with these medications.
“There is also a lack of randomised controlled trials showcasing the efficacy of CBMPs in comparison to other licensed medicines.”