Nurses, health advocates and patient groups are converging at Parliament House next Monday, 16th September, in a call for better patient access to medicinal cannabis.
The delegation, which includes representatives from patient groups Epilepsy Action Australia, Chronic Pain Australia, Australian Country Women’s Association and medicinal cannabis advocacy group United In Compassion, as well as the 63,000-strong NSW Nurses & Midwives Association, was organised by UIC Founder Lucy Haslam who, with her late son Dan, successfully campaigned for the drug’s legalisation for medical use in 2016.
However, the group claims that since then, Australia’s medicinal cannabis programme has let patients down with no domestic industry yet up and running and just a few thousand individuals approved to access expensive imported products out of “hundreds of thousands if not more still forced to rely on the black market”.
They say they have arranged meetings throughout the day to discuss the problem with senior MPs from across the political spectrum but that Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt – responsible for the programme’s roll-out – has declined to meet with them.
Mrs Haslam says their concerns are validated by a Department of Health Report published earlier this month which states ‘expectations have not been fulfilled’ and that only a ‘relatively small number of patients are receiving prescribed medicinal cannabis, it is mostly imported and it is expensive.’
‘Despite Government assurances to the contrary we believe Australia’s medicinal cannabis programme pretty much failed to deliver for patients,’ Mrs Haslam said.
‘While the Department of Health claims around 15,000 approvals have been granted for prescriptions of cannabis and cannabis products to date, in reality it represents a far smaller figure when repeat and unfilled, unaffordable prescriptions are taken into account. This is after almost three years of the law to legalise cannabis for medical purposes having been enacted. Denmark meantime has two thousand patients after only six months and Germany in excess of 60,000 patients after starting its programme a year later than us.’
Blaming over-complex and difficult-to-navigate access pathways which require State & Territory as well as Federal approval and often the backing of medical specialists, the group will be calling on the Government to make several improvements to the current system, funding to educate healthcare professionals on the matter and subsidies for those unable to afford such medicines.
‘Even if they’re prepared to fight their way through all the paperwork, most doctors remain largely uneducated on this,’ Mrs Haslam said. ‘And they’ve had no support from Government other than a series of ‘Clinical Guidance Documents’ published in 2017 based on ‘Literature Reviews’ which excluded the majority of evidence about the drug’s efficacy. This, prices, and the current way cannabis is Scheduled mean that most sick Australians who could benefit just aren’t getting these medicines.’