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Home Office stops GP from prescribing cannabis to epileptic child

The Home Office has told a GP to stop prescribing cannabis to a 12-year-old boy with severe uncontrollable epilepsy.

The decision, which was taken despite the treatment reportedly being effective, raises ‘ethical issues’, his GP said.

Dr Brendan O’Hare, a GP in Castlederg, County Tyrone, issued one prescription of medical cannabis for Billy Caldwell after US paediatric neurologists had initiated treatment.

His mother, Charlotte Caldwell, has said his seizures had dramatically reduced while taking the cannabis oil.

After returning home, his mother went to Dr O’Hare explaining they were running out of medicine, which had made a remarkable difference to her son’s condition.

‘It is not available in Northern Ireland at the time but there was an opportunity to obtain the medicine from the Republic of Ireland so I wrote a prescription.’

Dr O’Hare said he then contacted the Health and Social Care Board to ask how to progress and he was put in touch with the Home Office.

He was told it was not a devolved issue, he could no longer prescribe it, and local politicians could do nothing about it.

‘I was then contacted by officials from the Health and Social Care Board and asked to attend a meeting where it was made clear to me I should not write any further prescriptions.’

Dr O’Hare said his patient had clearly benefited and each case should be considered individually with provision made where there was clear expert evidence.

‘I’m not a supporter of cannabis and I have seen the harm it has done and I don’t have any expertise but I issued the prescription on the advice of someone who did.

‘Someone with the right expertise assessed the child and made a decision it would benefit them and now it looks like that is going to be denied.

‘It does frustrate me, there is an ethical issue here.’

A Home Office spokesperson said they had clarified the law around controlled substances to Dr O’Hare but it was a matter for the Department of Health Northern Ireland to determine and consider any controlled drug licensing applications from companies and individuals.

‘The Home Office recognises that people with chronic pain and debilitating illnesses are looking to alleviate their symptoms.

‘However, it is important that medicines are thoroughly tested to ensure they meet rigorous standards before being placed on the market, so that doctors and patients are assured of their efficacy, quality and safety.’

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