MS patient's frustration at being refused new cannabis treatment
A woman who has used cannabis for 20 years to relieve her MS symptoms has expressed her frustration at being denied recently-legalised cannabis medicine.
Susan Zawadzki was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a degenerative disease that attacks the central nervous system, when she was just 17. Now 55, she keeps her symptoms in check by smoking cannabis before bed, preventing painful night time spasms.
Susan said she was ‘joyous’ when the government announced it would allow cannabis oil to be prescribed to help certain long-standing conditions, including MS, and hoped she could get a prescription which would stop her from being forced to buy cannabis illegally.
But to her dismay, she says her neurologist has told her the treatment is not available to patients in the area.
Susan, of Celadine Drive, said: “I have been using cannabis for 20-odd years.
“This is what I have been waiting for – I have been waiting for the NHS stuff to come along so I can buy legally.
“I went to see my neurologist and he said he could write me a prescription, but locally the CCG said it would not fund it.”
Hastings and Rother CCG, or Clinical Commissioning Group, is responsible for planning and commissioning health care services in the area.
Susan said: “So where does that leave my specialist?
“He’s got the power to write out a prescription for me to get this cannabis oil but nowhere locally will take it.”
Susan says she believes her self-medication has slowed the progression of the disease.
She said: “My neurologist looked at my MRI scan and he said for the years I have had MS, my brain scans should be worse than this.
“You could say the cannabis is working for me. And there’s quite a few people out there who it would work for, if used correctly.”
Susan added: “Everyone who understands the benefits of it is giving me the thumbs up. Even the government is giving me the thumbs up.
“But the CCG is saying no.”
A spokesperson for the CCG said it was “not a decision or process that the CCG is involved in” and referred the Observer to NHS England.
A spokesperson for NHS England said it could not comment on individual cases, adding: “Following the change in the law, expert specialist hospital doctors will now be able to prescribe cannabis based medicines for a small number of patients who have an unmet need and where there is evidence of benefit.
“This does not detract from the wider physical and mental health risks and concerns potentially arising from regular recreational cannabis use.”
According to the official NHS website, “very few” people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis.
It goes on to say that Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine that is sprayed into the mouth and helps people with MS-related muscle spasticity, has limited availability on the NHS.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence does not recommend that NHS doctors prescribe Sativex, as it says it is not cost effective.
Although the symptoms of MS can be treated, there is currently no cure for the disease.