Doctor hands out cannabis spray

Sativex spray
Sativex spray

A DOCTORS’ surgery in Calderdale has flouted rules by prescribing a cannabis-based drug designed to help multiple sclerosis sufferers, the Courier has learned.

NHS Calderdale’s policy is to deny patients the drug Sativex, which is taken using a mouth spray.

Yet it has emerged that between April and October last year, one doctors’ practice in Calderdale issued 19 prescriptions for it.

Sativex contains cannabinoids, extracted from cannabis plants, which can help relieve the painful muscle spasms MS causes.

It is not known which surgery prescribed the drug.

Liz Schofield, of Pellon, Halifax, whose husband Richard suffers from the condition, said the news would feel unfair to many.

She said: “It won’t feel fair to anyone with MS if someone is getting Sativex and they’re not.

“I firmly believe that if somebody, under the guidance of a consultant, has got to the point where pain control isn’t working and Sativex is an option, it should be there if they want it.

“They (NHS chiefs) are looking after the purse strings and we’re looking from the point of view that if a drug’s available, it should be available to everyone. But in reality there isn’t a bottomless pit of money.

“You’d need a GP who knows there’s a drug available and who’s saying would control and monitor it and is prepared to take that on board. I’d expect a GP to look after me, regardless of the rules. “But you’d be lucky to find a GP who would do that.”

Mrs Schofield said she believes the drug should be a last resort for those who need more pain relief and who would not be adversely affected by the muscle relaxant.

Sativex was approved by the Department of Health and licensed for the first time in the UK in 2010 by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

The medicine costs £125 per 10ml vial - about £11 per day per patient.

But NHS Calderdale rejected the drug on advice from the Yorkshire and Humber Specialised Commissioning Group, ruling it would not be routinely funded for Calderdale’s estimated 300 sufferers.

The health trust told the Courier that its policy on the drug had not changed and admitted they had not been aware a surgery had been prescribing the drug.

Julie Landale, head of medicines management for NHS Calderdale, said: “Although we have a prescribing policy and list of drugs which are not approved for general use based on NICE guidance or best available evidence, GPs are able to prescribe any drug they feel is appropriate for and of benefit to their patient.

“We are now aware that a local GP surgery is prescribing Sativex and we will liaise with those doctors to make sure that patients are regularly reviewed to ensure that they are deriving benefit from this drug which was not found to be cost effective in the target population by the Yorkshire and Humber Specialised Commissioning group.”

Nick Rijke, director of policy and Research at the MS Society said: “Sativex has been shown to be both safe and effective in reducing spasticity in many people with MS. This in turn prevents falls, reduces hospital admissions and helps people retain their independence. Given that every person responds differently to each treatment, it is important that local clinicians have every treatment option at their disposal.”