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UK: Theresa May REFUSES to back Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on changing the law on medical cannabis after epileptic boy Billy Caldwell's case
Monday 18 Jun 2018
But she stopped short of backing a full review on how the law works
Home Office has been unable to confirm whether any review is actually starting
Theresa May today refused to endorse her Health Secretary's call for a full review into the use of medical cannabis in the wake of the Billy Caldwell case.
The Prime Minister insisted there was a 'good reason' for Britain's tough drug rules hours after Jeremy Hunt suggested a full review had been ordered by Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Mrs May said it was already possible to get one off licences for the medical use of cannabis in defiance of claims from Mr Hunt there was an urgent need to change the law.
In a bid to bridge the divide, Home Office Minister Nick Hurd announced an expert medical panel was being appointed to advise ministers on individual cases involving cannabis.
The Home Office insisted this was not a full review of the law, as has been demanded by Mr Hunt and Mr Javid.
In other developments it has emerged Mr Javid tried and failed to raise the case of Billy Caldwell, a 12-year-old who takes cannabis oil to control epileptic seizures, in Cabinet today.
Cabinet sources played down the clash between Mrs May and Mr Javid, saying he had been relaxed about the way the PM handled the situation.
There was said to have been a misunderstanding about whether the politicians were expecting the 'incredibly complex' issue to be debated at Cabinet today.
Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Hurd told MPs recent had 'highlighted the need for the Government to explore the issue further and our handling of these issues further'.
He announced the establishment of an expert clinicians' panel to advise ministers on any individual applications to prescribe cannabis-based medications.
Mr Hurd said he had asked chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies to take forward work on the panel.
Mrs May had appeared to play down the prospect earlier today. The PM said: 'Do we need to look at these cases and consider what we've got in place? Yes.
'But what needs to drive us in all these cases has to be what clinicians are saying about these issues.
'There's a very good reason why we've got a set of rules around cannabis and other drugs, because of the impact that they have on people's lives, and we must never forget that.'
Home Office Minister Nick Hurd (pictured in the Commons today) confirmed to MPs the study would be undertaken after hours of confusion in Government
Mr Javid intervened over the weekend on the grounds of urgent medical need to grant a 20-day licence for Billy to be treated with cannabis oil, after he suffered seizures following the confiscation at Heathrow Airport of supplies brought by his mother from Canada.
And earlier today, Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Javid had acted 'extremely decisively' in the case, adding: 'What he has announced yesterday is that he is going to review the law around this as quickly as he can'.
The Health Secretary added: 'I don't think anyone who followed that story could sensibly say that we are getting the law on this kind of thing right.'
Challenged over whether the legal situation could remain unchanged for weeks or months in the face of cases like Billy's, Mr Hunt replied: 'I sincerely hope not.'
He added: 'It does take time, because we've got to not only look at the law, we've got to look at the clinical evidence and make sure there are no unintended consequences.
'But I think we all know that we need to find a different way.'
The Prime Minister insisted there was a 'good reason' for Britain's tough drug rules hours after Jeremy Hunt suggested a full review had been ordered by Home Secretary Sajid Javid
But when the PM's official spokesman was asked at a regular Westminster media briefing whether a review of the law was under way, he replied: 'We have reviewed this individual case and a decision has been taken based on clinical advice.
'Beyond that, I don't have anything specific for you, beyond saying that we will continue to look at clinical evidence and take decisions on that basis.'
The spokesman added: 'In terms of the Health Secretary this morning, I think he said we have to look at the law and the clinical evidence. I think that's something that we are alive to.
Mr Javid intervened over the weekend on the grounds of urgent medical need to grant a 20-day licence for Billy to be treated with cannabis oil
'But equally, going forward, any decisions will have to be made on the basis of clinical evidence and how to provide the best treatment.'
Billy's mother Charlotte Caldwell, of Castlederg in County Tyrone, has called for an urgent meeting with Mr Javid and Mr Hunt to discuss the positive impact on her son's condition of cannabis oil, which is restricted in the UK but legal elsewhere in the world.
She credits the oil's active ingredient THC with keeping Billy's seizures at bay, saying he was seizure-free for more than 300 days while using it.
After an 'absolutely horrendous' period of escalating seizures following the confiscation of his supplies at Heathrow, he was now eating again and less affected by his epilepsy, she said.
Another Northern Irish mother of a child with epilepsy said her six-year-old daughter Sophia was at risk of death without the banned treatment.
Danielle Davis, from Newtownards, told Today: 'Sophia definitely needs whole-plant medicinal cannabis with THC. If Sophia doesn't have this and her seizures continue, we could be visiting a headstone.
'I honestly pray to God that it is not too late. That would be heartbreaking if it took so long to sign off on something that my daughter's life is taken.'
Former deputy prime minister Sir Nick Clegg said that ministers' resistance to legalising medicinal cannabis was based on 'prejudice'.
He said: 'It is pathetic – and I saw it for myself in Government – this bone-headed triumph of prejudice over evidence. The active substance in these cannabis-derived medicines is less harmful than stuff you can get across the counter from a chemist.
'When I was in Government, I certainly couldn't get Theresa May and the Home Office and indeed other parts of the Government to just address the evidence.
'That poor mother is finding herself in this heartbreaking situation because politicians can't separate off the issue of medicinal cannabis to help her child from their wider prejudice about drugs generally.'
Labour MP Andy McDonald, whose son Freddie died as a result of epilepsy, wrote to Mr Javid calling for a blanket exemption on the use of cannabis oil to alleviate epilepsy, along with measures to ensure supplies of the substance.
Mr McDonald wrote: 'I am firmly of the view that when paediatricians and neurologists are struggling with intractable epilepsy cases, if in their considered medial view cannabis oil would be efficacious, then they should be permitted to administer it, safe in the knowledge that it is lawful to do so.
'I make no comment about the administration of cannabis oil more widely and restrict my appeal to these highly specific cases, but speaking as a parent who lost a beloved son to intractable epilepsy I have to speak out in the hope that further deaths can be avoided and that families are spared the unbearable pain of losing a child.'
WHAT IS CANNABIS OIL AND IS IT LEGAL IN THE UK?
Government advisers made it legal to buy cannabidiol (CBD) oil in 2016 after they admitted that it has a ‘restoring, correcting or modifying’ effect on humans.
However, the oil's legal status has confused thousands across England and Wales, after the MHRA back-tracked on its position just weeks after.
Suppliers now have to obtain a licence to sell it as a medicine, following the decision in October two years ago – but some weave the strict rules.
Manufacturers are able to avoid regulation by selling it as a food supplement - ignoring the lengthy process of gaining a medicinal licence.
CBD oil, which can reportedly help with back pain, anxiety and epilepsy, has yet to be approved for use on the NHS in Scotland.
It comes in many forms, the most popular being an oil - which users spray under their tongue - or gel tablets which melt slowly in the mouth.
However, cannabis oil, which contains THC - the compound that gives users a 'high' - is illegal under UK laws.
But Billy Caldwell, from Castlederg, Northern Ireland, made headlines last April when he became the first Briton to be prescribed it on the NHS.
Cannabis oil, which reportedly has no side effects, influences the release and uptake of ‘feel good’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.
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