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Medical cannabis pharmacies – what are your rights as a patient?

Do you know your rights when it comes to choosing where your medication is dispensed?

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Medical cannabis pharmacies - what are your rights as a patient?

As a medical cannabis patient do you know your rights when it comes to choosing where your medication is dispensed?

Since medical cannabis was legalised almost four years ago, in November 2018, there are now more than 20,000 patients who hold legal prescriptions, for a range of conditions from chronic pain to anxiety.

Around 22 private clinics are currently prescribing cannabis and an increasing number of pharmacies are legally dispensing cannabis products across the UK.

While unusual with other medicines, as it stands it is not uncommon for cannabis clinics to have pharmacies associated with them. But what many patients don’t realise is that they have the freedom – and the right – to choose where they get their medicine dispensed. 

Patients do not have to use the pharmacy which is recommended by their clinic or doctor. In fact, according to guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC) doctors should not attempt to influence a patient’s healthcare choices ‘to their own benefit’. 

What does the guidance say?

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has a section on its website dedicated to prescription direction, which refers to a patient being directed to a certain pharmacy for their prescription.

Prescription direction applies to both private and NHS prescriptions.

The PSNC refers to the GMC guidelines and states that ‘patients should be free to choose from which pharmacy to have their prescribed medicines dispensed and doctors must not allow their own or their employers’ financial or commercial interests in a pharmacy to influence the way they advise their patients.’

It adds: ‘A doctor’s failure to adhere to these standards could form the basis of a complaint of professional misconduct.’

The GMC guidance the PSNC refers to is called Financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest.

Under the section entitled ‘decisions about patient care’, it states: “You must not try to influence patients’ choice of healthcare services to benefit you, someone close to you, or your employer. If your organisation dispenses medicines, you must not allow your financial or commercial interests to affect the way you prescribe.”

Elsewhere, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is responsible for the regulation of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and registered pharmacies in Great Britain. 

As part of its role to ensure people receive safe and effective care, the body sets standards for pharmacy professionals and registered pharmacies.

A representative from the GPhC said that while they had not produced specific guidance on prescription direction, pharmacists operating in both the NHS and private sector were expected to ‘use professional judgement’ and ‘declare any personal or professional interests’. 

They stated: “Our standards expect pharmacy professionals to use their professional judgement so that they deliver safe and effective care. They are expected to declare any personal or professional interests and manage these professionally. 

“We also expect pharmacy professionals to consider and manage appropriately any personal or organisational goals, incentives or targets and make sure the care they provide reflects the needs of the person.

“Our standards apply in all contexts and settings and do not differentiate between NHS and private prescriptions.”

What does this mean for patients?

As a patient, once your doctor has deemed you eligible for medical cannabis you can ask for a copy of your prescription and take it to any UK pharmacy which is authorised to dispense cannabis products. You can find a list of all dispensing pharmacies here 

Either you or your doctor can email the pharmacy directly to start the process. 

It is worth noting that an independent pharmacy may have a larger range of products available, as they are not affiliated with any specific suppliers. 

Botanical Health Dispensary is working with one of the few wholly independent pharmacies currently dispensing cannabis in the UK, through its affiliated pharmacy, Leyes Lane.

Pharmacist Caroline Harvey, has over 35 years experience and was responsible for dispensing the first legal prescription for medical cannabis in the UK in 2018.

She told Cannabis Health: “At Botanical Health Dispensary we are committed to helping patients find the best possible value and service for having their prescriptions dispensed. To achieve this it is essential that we remain totally independent from any specific clinic. 

“Our affiliated pharmacy, Leyes Lane, can dispense prescriptions from any legal clinic in the UK and has a range of authorised suppliers. You can be assured that your medication will be sourced and supplied with integrity, patient wellbeing and value for the patient uppermost.”

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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