Two-thirds of patients contacting Scotland’s first medical cannabis clinic are chronic pain sufferers waiting a year or more for specialist NHS help.
The Sapphire Medical Clinic in Stirling has revealed the overwhelming majority of patients have chronic-pain-related conditions as NHS waiting lists to see consultants lengthen.
The delays have provoked warnings chronic pain sufferers are risking addiction to powerful prescription drugs because alternative treatments are under-resourced.
About 800,000 Scots a year receive at least one prescription for opioid painkillers, which can be as addictive as heroin. Dr Simon Erridge, Head of Research and Access at Sapphire Medical Clinics, said there was insufficient evidence to support use of traditional painkillers, such as opioids.
In March the Sapphire clinic was given approval from regulators Healthcare Improvement Scotland to treat dozens of conditions, including Parkinson’s. Data from Sapphire show 65% of referrals for a cannabis prescription are for people suffering severe pain for 12 weeks or more, despite treatment or medication.
One patient at the clinic – Suzie Marshall, a 48-year-old retired bank worker – waited almost two years to be diagnosed with arthritis by an NHS consultant. She previously took strong painkillers for joint pain.
She said: “I was surprised at how keen doctors are to hand out opioids. They didn’t really help my pain.”
The number of patients waiting a year or more to see a specialist for chronic pain on the NHS has almost trebled over the past year, according to official figures.
At the end of March, 165 people had been waiting 52 weeks or more for an appointment – up from 57 in 2020. Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Annie Wells said: “We should not have reached the point where this new cannabis clinic is having so many referrals for chronic pain patients. The health secretary must guarantee necessary funding to tackle growing waiting times.”
Two weeks ago the Scottish Government said improvement of chronic pain services was a priority. It added: “We know that there is need for improvement and this year we will publish an updated framework for chronic pain service delivery.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe