Interesting to see the Mail give over so much column space to Sapphire who have been around for a couple of years now. Maybe it’s the Harley St address and £150 consultation fee that attracted their attention.
Here’s a taste of what they say
The patients who’ve come to the Sapphire Clinic often feel they have exhausted other options.
Typical is Jacqui Ward, 63, a recently retired businesswoman and grandmother of three.
For years she’s suffered from fibromyalgia, leaving her in chronic pain, as well as with sleeping problems, brain fog and anxiety.
Jacqui describes the treatment offered by her GP as ‘miserable’.
‘All he did was give me pills to help me sleep and antidepressants, but they didn’t help much and caused side-effects and I had even more brain fog,’ says Jacqui, who lives with businessman husband Len, 66, in Stebbing, Essex.
Doctors have been able to prescribe medicinal cannabis legally since November 2018 following several high-profile cases involving children with a rare form of epilepsy.
One was Alfie Dingley, then eight, who was experiencing up to 75 seizures a day until 2017 when his mother, Hannah, gave him cannabis oil obtained legally in the Netherlands. It was illegal then to use it in the UK and Hannah mounted a campaign to get the law changed.
Even though the law was changed, there are so many caveats (see below) that the NHS wouldn’t reveal the number of prescriptions issued as it would be so low it might identify patients. (A Freedom of Information request last November to the NHS Business Authority revealed just 18 individual prescriptions had been written since the law change).
However, private clinics appear to feel less constrained. The lengthy list of conditions they treat at the Sapphire includes insomnia, Parkinson’s disease, pain, depression, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, migraine and chemotherapy-induced nausea.
‘When the law changed it took everyone by surprise,’ says Dr Mikael Sodergren, managing director at the Sapphire and cancer surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London.
‘But a group of clinicians at Imperial and I quickly realised patients would not be able to access medicinal cannabis on the NHS.’ (Only specialist doctors — such as neurologists, pain consultants or pediatricians, but not GPs — are allowed to prescribe it.)
Since it opened, more than 500 patients have sought help at The Sapphire. It’s not cheap. An initial consultation costs £150, with a follow-up consultation (at one month then three-monthly) £90.
Then there’s the prescription itself, around £130 for a month’s supply — this can be higher depending on the type prescribed.
There is no need for a doctor’s referral — patients can self refer provided they’ve tried firstline treatments for their condition.
‘We turn away about 20 per cent of patients,’ says Dr Sodergren.
The medicinal cannabis prescribed by the Sapphire is produced under licence from regulators in the UK (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, MHRA) and Europe .
The medicinal cannabis prescribed by the Sapphire is produced under licence from regulators in the UK (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, MHRA) and Europe.
There are around ten manufacturers (pharmaceutical companies or licensed cannabis producers) supplying medicinal cannabis for use here — some are based in the UK, others abroad. This kind of medicinal cannabis usually comes as an oil to drop under the tongue or as dried flowers that are heated to release the oil and inhaled in a vape.
There is so little expertise in medicinal cannabis in this country that the team at the Sapphire had to undertake crash courses in prescribing from doctors in Canada, where its use has been permitted since 2001.
Dr Michael Platt, Sapphire’s clinical medical director and a consultant pain specialist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London, admits he was nervous prescribing cannabis for the first time. He became interested when patients described how illegal cannabis helped with their pain.
‘It was a big leap, but I would rather prescribe medicinal cannabis than opioids — which can cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop, and has the risk of serious side-effects — any side-effects from medicinal cannabis will be minor in comparison,’ he claims.
Prescribing such a little-researched treatment represents a leap of faith for Dr Platt — and also for patients. Those who go to the Sapphire are, in effect, part of an experiment: because for many of the problems, little is known about whether cannabis will help or not.
‘It’s like a constant clinical trial,’ says Dr Platt, ‘My main interest is with chronic pain, for which we have various medications which work for some and not for all — and there’s a gap, especially for the complex cases.’