As the healthcare professionals who often have the closest contact with patients, nurses need a voice in the medical cannabis conversation, those in the field tell Cannabis Health.
Despite being the care providers who often develop the most in-depth relationships with patients, up until recently the role that nurses play in the medical cannabis sector had been somewhat overlooked.
Launched at the end of last year, a first of its kind series of webinars has been designed to bring a deeper understanding of medicinal cannabis to the nurse and patient care pathway.
Aimed at nurses and other healthcare professionals, the series brings the multidisciplinary team (MDT) approach – which is so ingrained in other areas of care – to cannabis treatment for the first time.
The initiative was designed and spearheaded by the Nurses Arm of Cannabis Patient Advocacy & Support Services (CPASS), which is made up of practicing nurses who are keen to improve understanding of medical cannabis among others in their profession.
Over the course of 2021, medical leaders from a multitude of disciplines will come together to provide world-class education on medicinal cannabis for UK registered nurses and healthcare professionals.
Each event, led by nurses, will be structured into two parts – the theory behind the benefits of cannabis medicines within key areas of medicine, and an MDT demonstrating how the theory is put into practice.
The second in the series, taking place on Monday 29 March, will explore the role of cannabis medicines in oncology, with registered nurses, Eleanor Owen-Jones RN DPSN MSc Clinical Research and Megan O’Rahilly RN CNS Upper GI Oncology in conversation with specialist consultants Dr Matt Brown MD (Res) FRCA FFPMRCA MRCS & Dr Charlotte Fribbens.
Sarah Higgins, an NHS nurse and sexual health lead for CPASS hopes the webinars will reduce some of the anxiety around cannabis medicines and bring nurses into the conversation.
“Our motivation is to educate nurses. We’re trying to demystify cannabis based medicines, to reduce the stigma and normalise them as just another tool in the box, the same as any other medicine,” she says.
“More often than not when anything is new, it creates some anxiety in healthcare professionals, particularly if they are not sure of the evidence around it.”
Sarah became involved with CPASS as she found many of her patients would consume cannabis illicitly to help with medical issues.
“In my area of health we talk a lot about recreational use of cannabis and when you delve a bit deeper into why people are using it, there seems to be quite a lot of therapeutic reasons given, such as around the time of their menstrual cycle,” she says.
As the healthcare professionals who have the most direct and regular contact with the patient, nurses can play an important role in opening up dialogue about cannabis, but also need to be educated in it themselves and able to practice safely.
“Nurses advocate for patients and are quite often the first port of call for them,” says Sarah.
“Typically a nurse’s bedside manner can elicit quite a lot of information from a patient that they maybe wouldn’t share with a doctor or consultant, so we develop trusting relationships with them.
“We’re able to feed back information to the rest of the team but we’re also able to support patients in a non-judgmental way in making choices around their therapies.”
She continues: “Nurses play the same role they would in any other kind of health care package, but the work CPASS is doing is to reduce some of the anxiety around this particular group of medicines and to look at ways that nurses can work safely in this area.
“We don’t want anybody working outside of the boundaries that they feel comfortable with.”
Each CPASS event is structured into two parts, the theory behind the benefits of cannabis medicines within key areas of medicine and the MDT demonstrating how the theory is put into practice.
Each MDT features a specialist consultant, nurse, GP and pharmacist, all working within the medicinal cannabis field in the UK. Their discussion will illustrate real world case studies within areas including; pain, mental health, neurology, oncology, women’s health and palliative care.
Former ICU nurse, clinical lead and co-founder of the Nurses Arm of CPASS, Sophie Hayes, left her job in the NHS to join the medical cannabis space last year.
Now lead nurse specialist at Integro Medical Clinics, she is one of the first practicing in the field.
Sophie is keen to encourage others into the field, believing the sector is currently missing a key component of person-centred care.
“The nurse is a key component of any care team. We often have the most regular contact with patients and as a result, have in depth knowledge of their health picture. This includes information regarding the patient as a whole person, not simply as a collection of diagnoses,” she says.
“This insight is invaluable when an MDT is coming together to make a decision regarding how best to move forward with the care of complex patients. A doctor might create a care plan that in theory would successfully manage the patient’s condition and the associated symptoms.
“However, it is the nurse who will be able to assess whether this fits with the patient lifestyle, and if it doesn’t work for the patient, it doesn’t work for anyone.”
Commenting on the first CPASS MDT event which took place in November, Sophie adds: “In these clinics we are often a last resort, these patients are complex and have already been reviewed by some of the countries most experienced clinicians.
“The problem solving potential of a fresh perspective of an MDT like this can be monumental for patients and the nurses role is an invaluable part of this.”
But while the cannabis sector may be lacking practicing nurses, Sarah doesn’t feel their role is undervalued.
“It’s a very new, emerging area of medicine and I would expect it to be doctor-led – lots of areas of medicine are doctor-led and and nurse-delivered, it’s just about making sure that information trickles down to everybody,” she says, encouraging nurses to ask questions and be open about their understanding of cannabis medicines.
“I would like nurses to look at cannabis based medicines as they would opioids, to try to reset any kind of previous views or opinions that they’ve held about it.
“It’s important to remember that we’re not discussing it in terms of something that has been bought on the street, we’re talking about something that is regulated and prescribed through a pharmacy.”
“But I’d also urge them not to feel embarrassed about the questions they have,” she adds.
“It’s important that we discuss our concerns or fears and address the barriers – I don’t think there is a silly question when it comes to cannabis.”
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