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Medical Cannabis - Access

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Tags: Medicinal Cannabis, Controlled Access Scheme


A survey of Australian doctors, reported in the BMJ, shows that two-thirds of patients have asked about accessing medicinal cannabis in the past three months, yet fewer than one in 10 GPs knew how to navigate the bureaucracy. More than 10 months after the so-called controlled access scheme started here, just six people have managed to be approved for the drug and another six to nine have applied but are still suffering on a waiting list.

The process of medicinal cannabis prescribing in Tasmania is a basket case. A person has to go to a GP, then a specialist, go on a list and attend the Royal Hobart Hospital's pharmacy. Doctors say they are overwhelmed with bureaucracy. People can only access medicinal cannabis for chronic epilepsy or end-of life-palliation, even though more doctors want it be available for types of pain relief. Bizarrely, it is easier to be prescribed an opiate derivative, despite all the known risks with that class of drugs. The deputy chief pharmacist has said he thinks the Government is striking the right balance. Does not the name of the controlled access scheme tell us everything - that you are controlling access so tightly that it is not available to the hundreds of desperate and needy people who should be able to access this drug today?


Madam Speaker, I am happy to receive the question, even though it comes from a member whose party has recently declared it wants to legalise cannabis for everyone, which is a recipe for absolute social disaster, destruction of families, the decline of mental health, and the ruination of lives We will not be having a bar of it. I will also lump in the Labor Party on this because at last year's Labor Party state conference, the Labor Party adopted the Greens' platform on drug decriminalisation, which is a recipe for wrecking lives. That is where this question emanates from.

On the issue, this Government has helped six people, six families, who would have received nothing before the Government introduced our scheme. On behalf of those six families, I say to Dr Woodruff that is six lives that have been helped under a model -

Dr Woodruff - Listen to the doctors.

Mr FERGUSON - Thank you for the interjection; I will take that. This model starts with the family doctor. Our model puts the process first and foremost in the hands of the family doctor.

I note the research or the survey the member referred to. I am not familiar with that survey but I will say that our state Health department works very closely with GPs in Tasmania. We have needed to this a number of times to ensure people are absolutely clear about how they can support a potential referral to access the controlled access scheme.

You may sneer that six people have received support, but not only have they received a legal prescription, we have even paid, unlike other states -

Dr Woodruff - Hundreds more.

Mr FERGUSON - If the member would listen, this is an important point. Other state schemes do not provide the actual product; we do. We pay for it, it is expensive but we are happy to do it, because we know it is clinician led. I am not qualified -

Dr Woodruff - That is not the issue - it's not about the money, it's about the access.

Mr FERGUSON - You may be a doctor, Dr Woodruff, but I am not. I do not think you are medical doctor; neither of us are, so neither of us are qualified to decide whether a person should have access to cannabis for their healthcare needs. This Government has placed it in the hands of clinicians. I invite all members of this House to show more faith in Tasmanian clinicians to very carefully and judiciously write those prescriptions for the people who need it.

The only reason we are having this conversation is because we are dealing with a product that is not approved by the TGA. You should not have drawn reference to opiates because they are listed by the TGA. The Government wants to approach this compassionately on evidence and to ensure we do not cause harm to patients. It stands in stark contrast to the Greens' and it appears the Labor Party's platform on this, which is open access to recreational drugs.