Petition briefing

Briefing for the Public Petitions Committee

Petition Number
Main Petitioner
: Robert Thomson on behalf of LDN Now Scotland
Subject: NHS availability of Low Dose Naltrexone
Calls on the Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to make Low Dose
Naltrexone (LDN) readily available on the NHS to auto-immune disease
sufferers as well as other conditions not classified as auto-immune such as
HIV/AIDS, cancer and fertility, in each NHS board area thereby reducing the
danger of sufferers having to access riskier alternatives and also incurring
higher costs by purchasing the drug through private medical providers and to
provide guidance to all GPs on LDN protocol and require them to collect LDN
clinical data.
Naltrexone is licensed in the UK for use in a number of treatments, including
in the fields of addiction and mental health. The Medicines and Healthcare
products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the UK-wide licensing authority
responsible for ensuring the safety, quality and efficacy of all UK licensed
medicines. It has advised that where naltrexone is licensed, it is as a 50mg
tablet for particular indications. Naltrexone at lower doses, and for the
indications discussed by the petitioner, is not licensed.
MHRA is only able to grant a marketing authorisation for a given indication
once supporting data from the manufacturer has been submitted to
demonstrate that the quality, safety and efficacy of the product are satisfactory
for the intended use. However, there is provision in both UK and European
legislation which allows doctors to prescribe a medicinal product, specially
prepared and for administration to a particular patient to meet a special clinical
need, on their own direct responsibility. It would appear that some UK doctors
are already prescribing low dose naltrexone for their patients. It is possible for
a pharmaceutical company to produce low dose naltrexone formulations to
supply pharmacists, at the request of a doctor, for use on a “named patient
basis”. This would be a matter for the individual patient and their doctor to
discuss and consider whether the use of low dose naltrexone is appropriate
for their particular clinical need.
The issue in connection with the NHS Board is whether or not the Board
would be prepared to fund the treatment. NHS Boards are expected to meet
the costs of prescribing medicines where NHS guidance states it is
1 Personal communication 2 November 2009 appropriate for them to do so (in Scotland, this principally comes through the Scottish Medicines Consortium). However, such guidance is only relevant for the medicine and the indication it is licensed for. As there is no license for LND under the indications noted in the petition, there is no guidance on its use for the NHS. Thus, the NHS Board is not obliged to meet the cost of the prescription. However, NHS Boards will consider requests put to them for the funding of an unlicensed medication. Whilst each NHS Board will have its own procedures for dealing with such requests, one standard route is for the prescribing clinician to make a case through the Board’s Area Drug and Therapeutics Committee. This Committee will consider the case and provide advice based on the circumstances of the case. This process is separate to the individual patient treatment (exceptional prescribing) request route that is used to consider requests for licensed and SMC not recommended medicines. Scottish Parliament Action
In June 2008, the Public Petitions Committee published a inquiry it held into the availability of cancer drugs on the NHS, which was the
result of a petition by Tina McGeever, on behalf of her husband Michael Gray.
It should be noted that in this particular case the medicine in question had a
license but was not recommended for use in the NHS by the SMC or NICE.
The Committee made a number of recommendations, some of which
focussed on obtaining greater clarity on exceptional prescribing. It also
reflected on the ability for patients to access NHS and private treatment
concurrently in circumstances where patients chose to pay privately for
medicines that were not routinely available on the NHS.
Scottish Government Action
Following the Public Petitions Committee report, the Scottish Government
published, in December 2008, new guidance to provide greater clarity for
NHS Boards when patients wished to pay for private treatment while receiving
NHS care. In addition, new guidance on a variety of issues, including the
need for written policies on exceptional prescribing and the processes for
prescribing unlicensed medicines is due to be published in the near future.

Jude Payne
Senior Research Specialist
4 October 2009

2 It should be noted that NICE guidance for England and Wales can supersede SMC guidance if the guidance is adopted for Scotland by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland. SPICe research specialists are not able to discuss the content of petition briefings with petitioners or other members of the public. However if you have any comments Every effort is made to ensure that the information contained in petition briefings is correct at the time of publication. Readers should be aware however that these briefings are not necessarily updated or otherwise amended to reflect subsequent changes.


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