Republic's addiction specialist 'ashamed' as families forced to travel abroad for medicinal cannabis

Sophia Gibson, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, is now being treated at home in Newtownards with medicinal cannabis after a three-year battle by her mum Danielle. Picture by Hugh Russell.

AN addiction specialist in the Republic has said he is "ashamed" of his profession for failing families who are forced to travel abroad to access medicinal cannabis.

Dr Garrett McGovern, a doctor who specialises in drug and alcohol addiction, said it was a disgrace that parents have to fight for medication that is "immeasurably changing" the lives of their sick children.

Dr McGovern, a medical director of the Priority Medical Clinic in Dublin, was speaking yesterday as medicinal cannabis campaigners and mothers of sick children called for the Republic's health minister Simon Harris to lift the "effective embargo" on a Bill that would legalise the drug.

The development comes four months after a landmark ruling led to a seven-year-old Co Down girl being granted the first long-term licence for the use of medicinal cannabis in the UK.

Sophia Gibson, from Newtownards, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, was granted the licence by an expert panel set up by the British government following a three-year battle by her parents.

Within days, Co Tyrone boy Billy Caldwell was also approved a licence to access the drug following a high-profile campaign by his mother Charlotte.

The move meant that parents could treat their children at home and did not have to travel overseas for treatment.

While the Republic's government last year passed the Medicinal Use Regulation Bill onto the detailed scrutiny stage, there has been a delay in rolling out the scheme.

In an emotional plea yesterday, a Co Cork mother of an eight-year-old girl with epilepsy called for greater access to medicinal cannabis in the south.

Vera Twomey said she is forced to travel to Holland every three months to access the medication for her little girl, Ava. Without it, Ms Twomey said, there would be "catastrophic consequences" for her health.

Dr McGovern said: "As I sit here today watching this emotional panel I am actually ashamed to be a doctor.

"I am ashamed of my profession today. They have let the women at this top table down.

"It's a human rights issue and it's an absolute disgrace...It's bad enough to be going through this but actually to have to fight in this way to be denied medication that is immeasurably changing the lives of your family and your children is disgraceful."

Ms Twomey, whose daughter suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, secured a licence so Ava could receive cannabidiol (CBD) oil and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil.

She called for Mr Harris to provide legislative change so that parents and children can access the medication locally.

"Our family has to leave the country every three months, we have to reapply for our licence for medical cannabis every three months," she said.

"This is very distressing and disturbing to the whole family environment to be leaving every 12 weeks. Any disruption in supply to Ava's medication could have catastrophic consequences for her health if there is a breakdown in supply in Holland.

"My daughter is an important a person as any other person in this State and she has the right to be respected."

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