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Independents' Day

GPs could be allowed to prescribe medical cannabis pending Government review

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said there will be a swift review into the prescribing of cannabis oil for medical purposes in the UK.

This comes amid a row between the Home Office and a Northern Irish mother who says her 12-year-old epileptic son, Billy Caldwell, is dependent on it for his survival.

The family has been granted an urgent license by the Home Office to access the medication, after the boy's GP was initially told to stop prescribing it and the family had the medicine confiscated by border control.

Mr Hunt's comments, made to ITV, were met by a Labour Party announcement that they would lift the ban on prescribing cannabis for medical purposes.

Mr Hunt said the review would be carried out 'as quickly as possible', adding: 'We know that there is strong clinical evidence that in certain situations, cannabis oil can be very beneficial and so I don't think anyone who followed that story [Billy Caldwell] can have felt anything other than a massive amount of sympathy for the family, and I think as a Government minister it's very clear to me that we're not getting that right and that's why we're having that review.'

But he said he could not put a timeframe on its completion because it would be subject to 'clinical' and 'legal' tests.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: 'A number of recent heart breaking cases have highlighted a failure of Government policy. Children have been put at risk and experienced extraordinary suffering because this Government drags its heels and refuses to grant cannabis oil licences.

'This must not continue. Labour in government will allow the legal prescription of cannabis oil for medical purposes. We will also review drugs policy to address all issues of public health. The Government should stop being so heavy-handed and bureaucratic and put the welfare of children first.'

As Pulse reported last month, the Home Office instructed the boy's GP to stop prescribing cannabis oil despite being effective against his severe and uncontrollable symptoms.

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.

Although not available in Northern Ireland, there was an opportunity to obtain the medicine from the Republic of Ireland, Dr O'Hare said, adding that removing the boy's medicine raised 'ethical' questions.

The Home Office has previously said that it 'recognises that people with chronic pain and debilitating illnesses are looking to alleviate their symptoms' but that ', 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'.


Readers' comments (9)


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  • last thing that GPs need as all wrong customers will want it to top up tramadol etc.

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  • AlanAlmond

    What the f&£k are politicians doing making clinical decisions like this? Wait for the tidal wave of weirdos who’ll book in demanding cannabis oil for any number of undiagnosable mysterious chronic health conditions. I can picture them now, bet you can too, oh and maybe one in a hundred might actually be genuine and clinically appropriate, they’ll stick out a mile amongst the flotsam that’s for sure.

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  • Vinci Ho

    I want to be open-minded on this but these cases should be under the specialists and medication to be dispensed in hospital ,based on current evidences.

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  • Good idea bad execution:

    I work in a hospice and get countless patients asking about the use of cannabis oil
    1)They will have no access to this whilst an in-patient in a hospice if only GPs can prescribe it
    2) The pain team who visit weekly will have no access to prescribing powers as anaesthetists
    3) The Maudlsey psychiatrists who review patients in my hospice will have no impact on the use of the medication if only GPs have access to cannabis
    4) GPs are just too busy and inexperienced to decide who needs a prescription for cannabis oil

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  • Now that’s easy money for those with questionable morals.

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  • Great, more CD bureaucracy. More hallucinations, schizos, depressions and more demands on appointments to get free cannabis will turn GPs into drug dens and drug dealers. The government is not thinking straight. Now I partly know why.

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  • This mother has acted knowingly illegally, and also imorally. I bet she was also storing it unsafely and without control of possible distribution.
    There is no such thing as medicinal cannabis oil.
    Canabis is highly toxic, and has no clinical indication whatsoever for control of epilepsy. There is no evidence that it is required in this case, only the family's demand for it over conventional medicine, and that is why they have obtained a dubious prescrition from the USA, where doctors will prescribe anything if paid enough.
    It causes brain damage and psychiatric effects which are irreversible.
    As a GP I see the effects of this on a daily basis and the heartbreak it causes to families and pateints.
    Only purified individual chemical entities derived from cannabis should be trialled on terminal patients under strict controlled studies. There is absolutely no place for encouraging drug lords to produce mixtures of dubious content and high toxicity for aggressive marketting.
    Send them back to USA to get it there!
    No responsible British GP would prescribe such toxic mixtures without any evidence of clinical benefit or indication.

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  • There is some limited evidence it works for Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndrome as an adjunct, with albeit small studies, but most importantly demonstrating minimal risks, and there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in most comments here about THC vs. CBD - and the above comment is conflating cannabinoids with cannabis and the associated psychosocial effects. I'd encourage all those w. kneejerk opposition to audit their morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl prescribing with the same conservative morals that they're applying here. Obviously we shouldn't be prescribing, and obviously GPs aren't best placed to do so, but maybe read into it and keep an open mind? I'd strongly anticipate that CBD based cannabinoids will be utilised in mainstream pharmaceuticals in 10-20 years as a useful adjunct to current analgesics/antiemetics/hypnotics.

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