Katherine Lorraine and pharmacist Nick Bakarich. Ms Lorraine is seeking access to medical cannabis.
A NSW woman dying of cancer has been denied access to medicinal cannabis because her specialist doctors refuse to sign off on the government’s own framework.
The framework was set up to help the terminally ill access the pain-relieving drug legally.
Katherine Lorraine, 51, has only a week or two to live, yet her quest to obtain medicinal cannabis over the past six months has been repeatedly blocked by her own specialists at The Mater Hospital, Newcastle.
“I haven’t been able to get access, I’ve been trying for six months and if it has been legalised, I should be able to get it. I’m dying, I want something to improve my quality of life,” Ms Lorraine said.
Since August 1, 2016, the NSW Health framework set up by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation (CMCRI) in the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist allows for doctors to apply “to seek approval to prescribe certain cannabis-based products that are not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, in appropriate circumstances”.
“These are products that have not been evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for quality, safety and efficacy,” the framework states.
And while Ms Lorraine’s GP has approved her use of medicinal cannabis, the framework states that only the patient’s specialists can obtain approval.
A spokeswoman for the CMCRI confirmed that “doctors (who are generally expected to be specialists in the condition being treated) will require approval from both the TGA and NSW Health before they can prescribe most unregistered cannabis-based products”.
Since August 1, NSW Health set out guidelines for the prescribing of medical cannabis.
All of Ms Lorraine’s specialist oncologists have refused her request, she claims.
“I have 100 per cent voiced my desire to have it. I want access. I thought the law had changed,” Ms Lorraine said.
Pharmacist Nick Bakarich has advocated for Ms Lorraine and found that state level registered prescriber application requiring a specialist to be the designated prescriber has effectively stopped Ms Lorraine gaining access — flying in the face of the intention of the law change.
“Under the NSW Health guidelines, Ms Lorraine’s access requires the medical oncologist to approve medicinal cannabis but the doctor’s position is that they will not advocate for medicinal cannabis,” Mr Bakarich said.
“The health department needs to acknowledge the pathway in place is wrong.”
Mr Bakarich had been advocating for another patient, Wayne Holt, who was also denied access and has since died.
Ms Lorraine remains in The Mater Hospital in Newcastle.
A spokeswoman for the CMCRI defended the specialists’ rights to approve or not approve cannabis.
“Pathways under NSW and Commonwealth law enable doctors to apply to NSW Health and the Therapeutic Goods Administration to seek approval to prescribe cannabis-based medicines that are not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, in appropriate circumstances. These are products that have not been evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for quality, safety or efficacy,” she said.
“Doctors have the right to decline to prescribe an unapproved product if they believe there is either insufficient clinical justification or no evidence to support the use of the product.”
Lucy Haslam, who runs the patient advocacy group United in Compassion, has been at the forefront of the legalisation of medicinal cannabis since her late son Dan Haslam went public with his call for access for the terminally ill in 2014.
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson, Lucy Haslam and NSW Premier Mike Baird following the announcement of NSW cannabis trials.
Dan Haslam died last year, aged just 24. His mother Lucy campaigned for an overhaul of medical cannabis procedure.
Dan, who died last year after his five-year battle with cancer, changed the minds of politicians. This led to legislation, both federally and at state levels, to pave the way for legal access to medicinal cannabis.
Mrs Haslam has written to Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley this month criticising the government’s policy as ‘a disaster’ for its “unreasonable hurdles and bureaucratic barriers to patient access”.
“It sounds lovely that the legislation passed unopposed, it’s now legal but in reality, patients still can’t access it quickly and easily because there are so many barriers to patient access it is a joke,” Mrs Haslam said.
“A dying patient expressing a desire for something that has been used for thousands of years, which has never been responsible for a single death, and which most importantly relieves their suffering in their final days is denied that relief because they (the doctors) don’t give a damn about something they are unwilling to become educated about,” Mrs Haslam said.