Department of Health releases new medical cannabis patient access info

Department of Health releases new medical cannabis patient access info

The TGA tends to avoid speaking about prescriptions because they have no direct oversight regarding scripts. Instead they focus on SAS-A/B approvals and AP notifications. These can be considered proxy figures for access. And if you have empirical data about prescriptions per approval, and empirical data about patient attrition rates (such as FreshLeaf does), you can model current active patients to a reasonable level of accuracy.

So it was interesting to see the DoH publish information on the number of prescriptions written since 2016. The DoH estimates about 30,000 prescriptions have been written since then, and that by the end of 2020 (assuming the number of prescriptions per month remains unchanged), we should see about 70,000 scripts. The number of prescriptions per month will, however, continue to accelerate. FreshLeaf estimates that around 140,000 prescriptions should be written by the end of 2020.

The DoH has also published information on the number of unique doctors who have prescribed medical cannabis and broken that down by access pathway. And this is probably the most encouraging statistic in the whole document. What it shows is that since 2016, over 18,000 unique patients have received access to medical cannabis. And those 18,000 patients have been treated by 1,465 unique doctors. This averages out at 12.2 patients per doctor. Now it’s very likely this average is pushed up by doctors specialising in cannabis medicine such as those at Cannabis Access Clinics. It’s possible that a few dozen doctors represent a majority of patients. But that would mean that over 1,000 doctors in Australia, unaffiliated with a specialist cannabis clinic, have taken it upon themselves to prescribe. And that’s terrific.

The DoH has provided the number of unique doctors approved for cannabis prescriptions across all access pathways (AP, SAS-A, SAS-B) in 2017, 2018 and 2019. They have also provided the number of unique doctors approved for cannabis prescriptions via the SAS-B pathway specifically in 2018 and 2019. Putting those figures together provides us with this graph:

Unique doctors who have prescribed cannabis

FreshLeaf Analytics Graphic 3

This shows just how important the online SAS-B portal, implemented in mid-2018, has been to meaningful improvements in patient access. The DoH has also provided an updated State/Territory breakdown for SAS-B approvals by doctor location. These are the figures for calendar year 2019:

As you can see, QLD is way out in front despite their population being smaller than NSW and VIC. This graph shows the total approvals for the year, but in order to properly compare jurisdictions, we need to account for the population of each State/Territory. To that effect, here is a graph showing how many SAS-B approvals were issued in 2019 in each jurisdiction per 10,000 people living there:

This is a better demonstration of just how far out in front QLD really is in terms of patient access. And how far behind places like TAS, NT, SA and the ACT are. But there are two caveats to this data: first, it doesn’t include AP patients. But the DoH has also estimated that only 655 unique patients have received access via an AP, so that’s not a big issue. A total of 74 doctors have been cannabis APs at one point in time, although only 22 are currently authorised. Second, this doesn’t include patients who have been prescribed a compounded product.


FreshLeaf Analytics, a division of Southern Cannabis Holdings, is the leading supplier of data about the medicinal cannabis industry in Australia. We have access to medicinal cannabis product, pricing and clinical data sets from some of Australia’s leading healthcare companies and organizations including healthcare clinics, pharmacies, product suppliers and the TGA. The FreshLeaf Analytics team provides custom research, analysis and consulting services in the Medicinal Cannabis market in Australia. The FreshLeaf Analytics team can be contacted on +61 2 8203 8741 or info@freshleafanalytics.com.au

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