Doctors must feel comfortable prescribing cannabis, says UK’s ‘first’ patient
Carly Barton was prescribed medicinal cannabis by a private pain specialist last month in what they believe is a UK first.
A woman believed to be the first patient in the UK to be prescribed unlicensed medicinal cannabis following a change in the law has said NHS doctors must feel comfortable to back the drug.
Former university lecturer Carly Barton, 32, was left with fibromyalgia – a condition which causes constant pain – after suffering a stroke in her early twenties.
Ms Barton, who used to teach fine art, began using cannabis illegally around two years ago after the strong opioid drugs, including morphine and fentanyl, she was prescribed left her feeling “zombied” while still in pain.
Last month she was prescribed medicinal cannabis by Greater Manchester-based private pain specialist Dr David McDowell in what they believe is a UK first. The three-month prescription will cost her around £2,500.
Doctors have been able to prescribe cannabis products to patients in the UK since November 1 after the drug was rescheduled.
But Ms Barton, who lives in Brighton, says interim guidelines, which make it difficult for NHS doctors to prescribe the drug, are “prohibition under a different name”.
“The guidelines they have produced aren’t working. In the month that they have been produced, no doctor has felt guided to write a prescription,” she said.
“Those guidelines need setting on fire as far as I’m concerned, and the NHS specialists need to be made to feel comfortable about making a clinical decision.”
Ms Barton, deputy director of patient advocacy group United Patients Alliance, said the change in legislation is “pointless” without a change in the guidelines.
She added: “At the moment, patients are being turned away, there’s posters up in waiting rooms saying don’t even ask about it, people aren’t getting an appointment if they’re saying that’s why they’re coming over the phone, there’s a complete and utter silent approach – people turning their backs and not wanting to discuss it – and that’s because specialists don’t have any information.
“They’re not worth the paper they’re printed on and that needs to change tomorrow.”
Consultant Dr McDowell also highlighted the perceived lack of research into medicinal cannabis, as well as an ongoing stigma surrounding its use as factors in putting other doctors off from prescribing the drug.
“I don’t think anybody is going to say this is a magic wonder-drug, but it’s certainly true to say I believe there is evidence this is beneficial,” he said.
“It is used quite widely in other parts of the world and there is increasing evidence of people being able to reduce their opioid consumption and maybe other drugs as well.
“I guess that’s why I feel it’s the right way forward.”
Ms Barton says she can only afford the first prescription and still faces weeks of waiting while a specialist importer obtains a licence to import the medicine.
She said she hopes an NHS specialist will renew her prescription or she faces “being a criminal” by buying her drugs on the black market.
“I’ve been in situations where it’s not been safe to do that,” she said.
“I’ve been on walking sticks in dark parks, meeting strangers on my own in the winter in agony, in horrible situations and that’s the reality of what’s happening to people across the country who are medicating with cannabis for different conditions.”
She added: “We are going to be put in a position where the rich are patients and the poor are criminals.”
The decision to reschedule cannabis products followed several high-profile cases, including that of young epilepsy sufferers Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, whose conditions appeared to be helped by cannabis oil.
But the drugs can only be prescribed by a specialist doctor, not a GP, on a case-by-case basis.
NHS guidance says a decision to prescribe cannabis products should only be made where other treatment options have been exhausted.
Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.