Two-thirds of patients contacting Scotland’s first medical cannabis clinic are chronic pain sufferers who have waited a year or more for help from the NHS.
Sapphire Medical Clinic in Stirling has found that the overwhelming majority of patients have chronic pain-related conditions as the NHS waiting lists for counselors are being extended.
The delays have sparked warnings that chronic pain sufferers risk becoming dependent on strong prescription drugs because alternative treatments are inadequate.
About 800,000 Scots receive at least one prescription each year for opioid pain relievers, which can be as addicting as heroin. Dr. Simon Erridge, Head of Research and Access at Sapphire Medical Clinics, said there wasn’t enough evidence to support the use of traditional pain relievers like opioids.
In March, the Sapphire Clinic received regulatory approval from Healthcare Improvement Scotland to treat dozens of conditions, including Parkinson’s. Sapphire data shows that 65% of referrals for a cannabis prescription are directed to people who have been in severe pain for 12 weeks or more despite treatment or medication.
One patient at the clinic – Suzie Marshall, a 48-year-old retired bank teller – waited almost two years for an NHS counselor to diagnose arthritis. She previously took strong pain relievers for joint pain.
She said, “I was surprised at how eager the doctors are to give opioids. They didn’t really help my pain. “
The number of patients waiting a year or more to see a chronic pain specialist from the NHS has almost tripled in the past year, according to official figures.
At the end of March, 165 people waited 52 weeks or more for an appointment – up from 57 in 2020. Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Annie Wells said “We shouldn’t have got to the point where this new cannabis clinic is ready” with lots of referrals for chronic pain sufferers . The Minister of Health must ensure the necessary funding to cope with the growing waiting times. “
Two weeks ago, the Scottish Government said improving chronic pain management was a priority. It added, “We know there is room for improvement and this year we will publish an updated framework for providing chronic pain benefits.”