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’.