Hotline to fast track NSW access to medicinal cannabis

Minister for Health Brad Hazzard talks to media during the launch of the report, What NSW Children Eat and Drink, on August 2, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Fairfax Media)
Minister for Health Brad Hazzard talks to media during the launch of the report, What NSW Children Eat and Drink, on August 2, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Fairfax Media)

A new hotline is expected to fast track access to medicinal cannabis for palliative care patients in NSW.

Doctors will soon have access to the NSW Medicinal Cannabis Advisory Service to help them cut through the regulatory red tape of legally prescribing onshore medicinal cannabis for their patients.

From January, prescribers across the state will be able to call a hotline that connects them to experts tapped into the latest international evidence-based research in the constantly-evolving field, Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced on Thursday.

The experts will help doctors assess whether a patient might benefit from medicinal cannabis and guide their treatment decisions.

Mr Hazzard said the $6 million initiative - the first of its kind - would give doctors the support and confidence they needed to decide if their patients, particularly palliative care patients, could benefit from medicinal cannabis.

"NSW has led the country in its approach to medicinal cannabis. However, doctors want more support about whether to prescribe medicinal cannabis, what specific product to prescribe and how best to prescribe it," Mr Hazzard said in a statement.

The service run from Hunter New England Health will be available to doctors across the state to help their patients access onshore medicinal cannabis products much faster, the minister said.

A senior doctor and two clinical pharmacists will head up the service, which will be open 9am to 5pm weekdays.

The service will help treating doctors fill out the necessary regulatory paperwork to enable their patients to access the treatments. Most cannabis products are still unapproved by Australia's medicine watchdog, the Therapeutics Goods Administration, and are experimental treatments.

The substances are only legally available through clinical trials or with special approval by the commonwealth and state governments.

"The whole aim of this service is to make it easier for doctors to access medicinal cannabis for their patients," NSW Health Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.

Doctors cannot be across the latest literature in the rapidly-moving field, or know the optimal regimen for the unapproved medicines, Dr Chant said.

"This service will cut out a lot of the work for clinicians and link them with the best available evidence," she said.

More than half the funding would go to the Australian Centre for Cannabinoid Clinical and Research Excellence, which will collect patient information, including data on adverse events and benefits to feed into further research and inform clinical decision making.

Dr Chant encouraged all doctors caring for patients who may benefit from medicinal cannabis to access the service, including GPs, oncologists and palliative care physicians.

"It's important that all members of a clinical team understand the medication a patient is on and is vigilant about monitoring for adverse events as well as effectiveness," she said.

The service will be open for three years, as part of the NSW government's $21 million investment for investigating the potential for the therapeutic uses of medical cannabis.

Around one quarter of the 64 applications seeking approval for cannabis medicine prescriptions are for palliative care patients, of which all have been approved.

Up to 30 palliative care patients will be enrolled in Stage One of the state's medicinal cannabis trials and a further 250 are planned for Stage Two of the trials, according to NSW Health.

This story Hotline to fast track NSW access to medicinal cannabis first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.