Cannabis based medication to treat symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis will soon be available in the Forest of Dean - but not to all patients.
The NHS in Wales will be the first in the UK to fund Sativex, benefiting some cross-border patients. But the majority who rely on prescriptions from NHS England won’t have access to the life changing drug that helps treat painful muscle spasms.
A decision on the first cannabis drug to be prescribed in England and Wales has been made following clinical guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Not making the drug available in England is a decision based purely on cost, according to the MS Society.
Sally Hughes, programme director, said: “The situation in the Forest of Dean highlights the postcode lottery that exists when it comes to people with MS getting access to drugs that have the potential to improve their quality of life.
“Sativex is licensed as a safe and effective drug for people with MS and for many it will be the only viable treatment option left to help them manage extremely painful and debilitating muscle spasms and stiffness.
“The drug will soon be available on the NHS in Wales but NICE has proposed recommending against making it available in England, based on a flawed assessment of its cost effectiveness.
“As a result, people living with MS on the wrong side of the border will be left to battle painful symptoms or have to face the financial strain of paying for the drug out of their own pocket.”
The MS Society launched its Treat Me Right campaign this year, calling for all patients to have access to the necessary treatment they need.
But not all MS patients would support the use of a cannabis based drug.
Jan Wilding, from Gloucester, has been living with the condition for 20 years and is taking amitriptylene for the pain and baclofen for spasms associated with MS.
“Having discussed treatments for my MS at length with a professor of neurology in Bristol, Sativex might just be okay for some people but not all,” she said.
“The fact that it is cannabis based for me, would not be acceptable. There have been many treatments that have come and I have been told that they wouldn’t help.
“Everyone is different and for those sufferers who want to try it out, good luck to them. Now if they came up with a cure for MS that would be entirely different.”
The Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group is due to review its position on making SAtivex more widely available in October, once NICE guidance is published on MS management.
Mark Gregory, Medicines Management Lead at NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We understand the frustrations that people with MS face and their wish to access treatments which may have the potential to improve their quality of life.
“Sativex is currently available in Gloucestershire for a limited number of MS patients under the care of a neurological consultant, when assessment indicates that it may be beneficial for their specific needs.”