Thank you for contacting me about epilepsy.
It is vital that our NHS supports people affected by epilepsy, estimated at between 362,000 and 415,000 across England, to live healthy, independent lives. Prompt diagnosis, treatment and seizure control are key to achieving high quality outcomes for patients with epilepsy, which is why I welcome the action taken to deliver this.
Guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) set out best practice for treating patients with epilepsy. These include recommendations that people having a first seizure should be screened and referred to a specialist, helping to establish early diagnosis of epilepsy. NICE is in the process of updating these guidelines to ensure that they remain consistent with new evidence regarding epilepsy.
With proper treatment, most people with epilepsy can be helped to have fewer seizures, and in some cases no seizures at all. Anti-epileptic drugs are the most commonly used treatment for epilepsy, which can help to control seizures in about 70 per cent of people. A two-stage review into the use of cannabis for medical purposes has also been announced, which could help alleviate symptoms of those living with epilepsy still further.
There is strong scientific evidence that cannabis can harm people’s mental and physical health, and damage communities. However recent cases have shown the need to look more closely at the use of cannabis-based medicine in treating patients with very specific conditions in exceptional circumstances. This is why the Government decided it was appropriate to review the scheduling of cannabis.
The decision to reschedule these products means that senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an exceptional clinical need. Following short term advice issued in September 2018 the ACMD are to review the current rescheduling and its appropriateness by November 2020.
Moreover, NHS England has published a review which is aimed at assessing the barriers to prescribing cannabis-based medicinal products where it is safe and clinically appropriate to do so.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has also developed updated clinical guidance on prescribing cannabis-based products for medicinal use, including for the management of chronic pain. It is crucial that this country keeps in step with the latest scientific evidence, so that patients and their families have access to the most appropriate course of medical treatment.
Ministers have also been clear that given the nature of the medicine, it should only be prescribed be specialist doctors and on a case-by-case basis. I believe these controls are necessary to develop clinical expertise and an evidence base for this treatment’s effectiveness. The decision whether to prescribe an individual with medicinal cannabis is therefore not a political or financial decision, but a decision by a medical expert, who will have considered whether it is the most effective treatment based on an individual’s particular condition.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.