It is vital that our NHS supports people affected by epilepsy, estimated at between 362,000 and 415,000 across England, to live healthy, independent lives. Prompt diagnosis, treatment and seizure control are key to achieving high quality outcomes for patients with epilepsy, which is why I welcome the action taken to deliver this.
Guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) set out best practice for treating patients with epilepsy. These include recommendations that people having a first seizure should be screened and referred to a specialist, helping to establish early diagnosis of epilepsy. I am glad that NICE is in the process of updating these guidelines to ensure that they remain consistent with new evidence regarding epilepsy.
I am encouraged that with proper treatment, most people with epilepsy can be helped to have fewer seizures, and in some cases no seizures at all. Anti-epileptic drugs are the most commonly used treatment for epilepsy, which can help to control seizures in about 70 per cent of people. A two-stage review into the use of cannabis for medical purposes has also been announced, which could help alleviate symptoms of those living with epilepsy still further.
I absolutely understand the concerns and anguish of patients and their families who suffer on a daily basis and are seeking treatments to ease their symptoms. The decision whether to prescribe an individual with medicinal cannabis is not a political or financial decision, but a decision by a medical expert, who will have considered whether it is the most effective treatment based on an individual’s particular condition. NHS England has published a review which is aimed at assessing the barriers to prescribing cannabis-based medicinal products where it is safe and clinically appropriate to do so. I was delighted to learn that steps have been taken to help ensure people with prescriptions for cannabis-based products for medicinal use do not have their treatment delayed or interrupted, by altering import restrictions. This is a most welcome step towards improving the supply of cannabis-based medicinal products.
Finally, I welcome that Parliament had the opportunity to debate this issue of medical cannabis twice in November 2021, with one debate focussed specifically on prescriptions for those who suffer with epilepsy. Unfortunately, due to prior diary commitments I was unable to attend, but I will make sure to follow these issues closely.