Friday Five

Prescription cannabis, IVF and anti-vaxxers – this week’s Friday Five

Medical cannabis products available on prescription

Medicinal cannabis products can now be legally prescribed by specialist doctors to patients across the UK for the first time. Only patients with specific conditions can be prescribed the drug and where other medicines have failed. This follows the outcry from two boys Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, who suffer from severe epilepsy and were denied access to cannabis oil.

Before now, almost all cannabis-based medicinal products were classed as Schedule One drugs, which means they were judged to have no therapeutic value. Sativex, a treatment containing the cannabis compounds THC and CBD, is one of the few that is already approved.

This meant these products could not be legally prescribed in the UK, and could be accessed only, in rare cases, with a special licence from the Home Office.

Read more on the BBC.


Budget 2018

The Chancellor of the Exchequer released the 2018 Budget, which confirmed an injection of £20.5bn into the NHS over the next 5 years with a minimum extra £2bn a year for mental health services. However, spending on public health, and doctors’ and nurses’ training in England is set to fall next year according to the fine print of the Budget documents. The chancellor announced annual real-terms funding increases for NHS England which provides front-line services. But other areas of health spending run by the Department of Health will fall in 2019-20, according to a think tank.

There will be a reduction of £1bn, or 12%, in other areas of the health budget, including prevention such as smoking cessation and sexual health.

The Conservative chairwoman of the Health Select Committee, Sarah Wollaston, told the BBC any further cuts would be unacceptable: “We cannot see money transferred from other parts of the Budget such as public health or training budgets to fund NHS England rises.

“This would have serious consequences and undermine the commitments made to the NHS this summer.”

Read more on the BBC.


 New figures show children’s operations cancelled by NHS up 58 per cent

In the past seven years there has been a 58% rise in the number of children’s operations cancelled by the NHS, according to figures, which critics warn illustrate the “cruel toll” of pressures on the health service. More than 117,936 paediatric operations were cancelled in the last seven years and a lack of theatre space, bed shortages and equipment failures, all contribute to this. This is clearly the result of financial pressures the NHS has faced over the years.

In a joint statement, Richard Stewart, president of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons (BAPS), and Eric Nicholls, chair of the Children’s Surgical Forum at the Royal College of Surgeons said “Having an operation cancelled is stressful for children and their families,” they added. “Alongside practical considerations, such as wasted time off school and work, children and their families have to deal with the mental anguish of preparing for surgery all over again.”

To make matters worse, only a third of NHS Trusts in England provided figures, meaning the actual figure for cancellations could be far higher than reported.

Read more on Independent.


‘Don’t be taken in by anti-vaccine myths on social media’

Prof Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, says that People who believe the myths spread by anti-vaccine campaigners “are absolutely wrong” on the 30th anniversary of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine being introduced into the UK the chief medical officer urged parents to get their children vaccinated and ignore “social media fake news”. The UK was declared “measles free” by the World Health Organisation last year. Cases still occur, but the disease no longer native to the UK. The MMR uptake has dropped to 87% and possibly to blame for the 903 cases of measles occurring this year so far as young people who had missed out on the MMR vaccine had been particularly affected.

Davies went onto say that myths peddled about the dangers of vaccines on social media was one reason parents weren’t taking their children to get the MMR vaccine. “A number of people, stars, believe these myths – they are wrong,” she said. “Over these 30 years, we have vaccinated millions of children. “It is a safe vaccination – we know that – and we’ve saved millions of lives across the world. “People who spread these myths, when children die they will not be there to pick up the pieces or the blame.”

Read more on BBC.

IVF being denied to couples who are “too old” or “too overweight”

Two news stories around IVF emerged this week: one reporting that over a quarter of Clinical Commission Groups (CCGs) use a man’s body mass index (BMI) to determine whether a couple can be reffered for fertility treatment, and the other reporting that women over 34 are automatically being denied IVF on the NHS in 12 areas of England, despite official guidelines saying it should be offered until the age of 42.

IVF campaign group Fertility Fairness said England’s Clinical Commission Groups are rationing access to NHS fertility services by setting their own access criteria, including male BMI and age. 14 CCGs stipulate men must be aged below 55 in order to have NHS fertility treatment.

A quarter of CCGs insist a woman’s hormone levels are at a specific level, and 91% do not allow couples to access IVF on the NHS if one of the couple has a child from a previous relationship, which it described as social rationing.

In the last two years, 30 CCGs (15.3 per cent) have slashed NHS fertility services, and one in 10 is currently consulting on cutting or removing NHS fertility treatment.

In similar news, the Victoria Derbyshire programme has found that around 80% of areas in England are failing to offer IVF to women up to the age of 42, despite NICE guidelines. Southampton CCG, for example, has a cut-off age for women of 34.

Fertility Fairness said it “penalises women who take longer to find a partner”.

Read more in the Independent.


Quote of the week

Our quote of the week comes from Lewis Dayman, a doctor questioning how the law treats doctors following a stressful situation in which he was asked to provide medical assistance on a long haul flight.

“It is in the interest of us all that the criminal justice system is left to the task for which it is best suited – bringing criminals to justice – not as a tool to hold honest physicians to account for their mistakes.”

Read more in the The Guardian.