Cannabis-based MS drug rejected by NHS Lincolnshire
A NEW drug based on cannabis to relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis has been labelled as "insufficient" by NHS Lincolnshire.
The drug, Sativex, has been approved by regulators to help relieve spasticity or muscle stiffness in MS patients.
It has been available unlicensed in the UK since December 2005.
But last year it became the first cannabis-based medicine to be licensed for use in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
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Sativex costs £11 a day and is issued as an oral spray. Only doctors specialising in MS, such as neurologists and pain consultants, are allowed to prescribe it.
According to figures revealed by the Department of Health (DoH), patients in Lincolnshire have been prescribed Sativex on 28 occasions since August last year.
But NHS Lincolnshire said these prescriptions have been issued to "around three or four" patients taking the drug before it was licensed.
The health authority also said it had rejected Sativex because it had not yielded effective enough results to match the cost.
Stephen Gibson, head of prescribing and medicines management at NHS Lincolnshire, said: "We evaluated Sativex through our effectiveness forum and we felt it was of insufficiently high quality for us to approve it for use.
"We referred that decision to the East Midlands Specialising Commission Group who reached the same conclusion.
"It is not approved for use by any of the PCTs across the health authority.
"We have said that for new patients we don't feel there is enough strong evidence to support prescribing it.
"It is also more expensive than a whole range of other options we've reviewed."
Maureen Patten, manager of the Lincoln MS Therapy Centre in Outer Circle Drive, said: "There are around three or four people our physiotherapist knows of that have been refused the drug in the past, but we don't know the reasons why. When these drugs come out we often know about them in advance through MS forums.
"There was quite a big thing a few years ago with drugs called beta interferons which were said to be the wonder-drug for people with MS – but there were strict criteria. You had to be under 55 years old and have relapsing and not progressive MS.
"It meant it wasn't available for about half of sufferers.
"It's frustrating when drugs aren't available for people. There are quite a few drugs about to deal with MS, but the very strong ones can leave very strong side-affects.
"Other treatments include physiotherapy and having a drop-in centre like ours where people can talk with others with the same condition."
Andy Bazley, 49-years-old from Lincoln, is a sufferer of MS and was diagnosed four years ago.
He said: "All these drugs go through trials and none of them are deemed 100 per cent effective. There's always going to be different side-effects for different people – it depends on the individual and their symptoms.
"My choice is to continue with the quality of life I already have rather than putting it at risk by taking some kind of toxic drug."