Medical Cannabis Access Programme announced

Will facilitate compassionate access to drug
  • Deborah Condon

The Minister for Health has announced provision for the delivery and funding of the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme, which will be used to treat patients with certain conditions who have failed to respond to standard treatments.

According to Minister Stephen Donnelly, the purpose of this programme is "to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed".

He noted that the programme follows the clear pathway laid out by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) in its expert report, Cannabis for Medical Use - A Scientific Review.

"Ultimately it will be the decision of the medical consultant, in consultation with their patient, to prescribe a particular treatment, including a cannabis-based treatment, for a patient under their care. It is important to state that there are no plans to legalise cannabis in this country," Minister Donnelly said.

Once suitable medical cannabis products are made available by suppliers, the programme will make it possible for a medical consultant to prescribe a listed cannabis-based treatment for a patient under his/her care for the following medical conditions, where the patient has failed to respond to standard treatments:
-Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS)
-Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
-Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy.

Minister Donnelly said that an extra €4 billion had been added to Budget 2021 and as a result of this extra funding, the programme has been added to the HSE Service Plan 2021.

Legislation underpinning the programme was enacted in June 2019 and the first stage was to have potential suppliers apply to the HPRA to have their cannabis-based products assessed for suitability for medical use.

The HPRA has so far assessed four products as acceptable, but further products are currently being assessed and if these are deemed acceptable, they will be added to the schedule of products for inclusion in the programme.

Pharmacists will be able to dispense cannabis for medical use to patients as set out in the legislation, on foot of a valid prescription, once suppliers make the specified controlled drugs available on the Irish market.

The offences and penalties for unauthorised supply and possession of controlled substances remain unchanged.

The HSE will establish and maintain an electronic register for the programme to facilitate the enrolment and recording of certain data including patient identifiers (in anonymised format), enrolled prescribers and prescribed/supplied medical cannabis products.

The Department of Health added that pending the commencement of this new programme, clinicians and their patients have been availing of a licence under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2016, in order to prescribe and administer cannabis-based products. The commencement of this programme will not affect these patients.


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