Advice provided to the Minister for Health in relation to the use of cannabis for medical reasons
Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, today moved to clarify the advice given to the Minister for Health in relation to the use of cannabis for medical purposes.
Referring to the recent publication of the Health Products Regulatory Authority’s (HPRA) report “Cannabis for Medical Use – A Scientific Review”, Dr. Holohan stated that, in light of this report, a process is currently underway to establish an access programme for cannabis-based treatments, the first of its kind in Ireland.
Dr. Holohan noted that, for the period during which this access programme is being established, it remains open to the Minister for Health to provide a licence for access to cannabis for medical purposes in individual cases. The granting of a licence must, however, be premised on an appropriate application being submitted to the Department of Health, which is endorsed by a consultant who is responsible for the management of the patient and who is prepared to monitor the effects of the treatment over time. As noted by Dr. Holohan;
“The granting of an individual licence under the Misuse of Drugs Act for the use of cannabis for medical purposes by the Minister for Health sets aside the usual regulatory processes which are in place to protect the public and which ensure that only those medications which have been found to be both effective and safe are made available to the public. Therefore, it is crucial that the granting of any such licence takes due care and consideration of the potential unintended consequences associated with the prescription of cannabis, a schedule 1 controlled drug, for medical purposes, and that its use is endorsed by a consultant who is familiar with and responsible for the care of the individual for whom the licence application is being made.”
Dr. Holohan went on to note that the independence of the doctor-patient relationship is a fundamental principle upon which medical practice is based and that it would be neither appropriate nor ethical for the Minister for Health to seek to influence this relationship; “The clinical considerations that inform the judgement of a consultant who is caring for a patient are matters which are subject to patient confidentiality, and as such we have no right to enquire into them. Specifically, it would be wholly inappropriate for a Minister for Health to seek to instruct or influence any doctor to prescribe a particular treatment”
Reiterating the conclusions of the HPRA’s report, Dr. Holohan said that, as with any drug that is prescribed, the role played by doctors and pharmacists is integral to safe and effective use;
“In establishing an access programme for medical cannabis, it is therefore critical that the views of these professionals, through their professional bodies, are considered. Efforts are underway to ensure that the planned access programme reflects those views and that the roles and responsibilities of doctors and pharmacists in prescribing and dispensing cannabis for medical purposes are clarified prior to its establishment”