A CANNABIS-based pain relieving drug made will not be made available on the NHS to Oxfordshire’s 1,000 Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers, it emerged yesterday.

Patients of MS – an illness which attacks the nervous system – were given fresh hope when a mouth spray containing extracts of the drug was licensed for use in the UK last week.

Cannabis has been medically proven to alleviate the symptoms of the neurological condition – but it is illegal.

The NHS said it would not be routinely prescribing the spray – called Sativex – for patients in the county.

Stevan Heads, of Abingdon, took Sativex for about 10 years as part of a drugs trial and said it significantly reduced the symptoms of his MS.

The 45-year-old, said: “It totally reduced my pain; I felt no pain at all when I was on it. It also reduced the spasms by about 90 to 95 per cent.

“I have noticed an increase in both the pain and spasms since I stopped taking Sativex about 18 months ago.”

Sativex can be sprayed under the tongue up to 12 times a day and costs the NHS £125 per 10ml vial, which works out on average at £11 per person per day.

Trials have found it to successfully reduce spasms and sleep disturbances in 40 per cent of people.

However, a priorities committee for the South Central NHS region, which decides which treatments will be routinely funded in areas including Oxfordshire, has deemed it a “low priority” for funding.

This means only those in exceptional circumstances will be given the spray by NHS Oxfordshire.

The committee said in a policy document on Sativex: “South Central priorities committees have considered the evidence for clinical and cost effectiveness of medicinal cannabinoids – such as Sativex – in spasticity, chronic pain and other symptoms associated with MS... and consider that the evidence is currently insufficient to support their use for any indication.”

Other trusts are still considering whether to fund Sativex.

Jayne Spink, director of policy and research for the MS Society, said the decision was disappointing. She said: “We’d like to see Sativex made available to anybody who might benefit.”

But she added: “As we have seen, people with MS may have to fight for access to Sativex in some areas.

“The MS Society will launch a campaigns guide on access to drugs later this year, which will include guidance for people fighting for access to drugs including Sativex.”

Mr Heads, former chairman of the Oxfordshire MS Society, said he now feared not prescribing Sativex would encourage more MS sufferers to buy cannabis illegally.

He said: “It is not something that people talk openly about, but I can see that happening.”

  • Many drugs and treatments are only given to Oxfordshire patients in exceptional circumstances.

To be considered exceptional, a patient’s GP has to prove to the PCT that the patient is being affected more than others and the treatment will be more beneficial to them than the average patient with the condition.

Kidney cancer drug Sunitinib was only given to exceptional cases until 2008 when the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) said it should be routinely funded.

And in Oxfordshire, IVF treatment for women aged under 30 and over 35 is only funded in exceptional circumstances – unlike many other areas.