Healthcare news

'Amazing' 13th birthday present for Billy Caldwell as doctors given green light to prescribe medical cannabis

Billy Caldwell and his mother Charlotte on the way out of the Department of Health at Stormont. Picture by Hugh Russell

SEVERELY epileptic Co Tyrone boy Billy Caldwell celebrated an "amazing" 13th birthday with the news that doctors will be able to legally prescribe medicinal cannabis for the first time.

British Home Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday announced his decision to relax the rules about the circumstances in which it can be given to patients, after considering expert advice.

Mr Javid said it "will help patients with an exceptional clinical need, but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use".

Charlotte Caldwell from Castlederg, who has been fighting for a change in the law to allow the vital treatment for her son Billy, said it was the "best birthday present" he could have received.

"It's over; it's unbelievable, incredible," she said.

"For the first time in months I'm almost lost for words, other than 'Thank you Sajid Javid'.

"That the Home Secretary has announced that medicinal cannabis can now be prescribed by GPs on Billy's 13th birthday is amazing. I wonder if he knew?"

She added: "My little boy Billy can now live a normal life with his mummy because of the simple ability to now administer a couple of drops a day of a long-maligned but entirely effective natural medication."

Billy Caldwell and his mother Charlotte pictured on the way out of Department of Health at Stormont. Picture by Hugh Russell

West Belfast mother Jean Kelly, whose son Deaglan (31) is battling extreme seizures, said last night they hope to benefit from the announcement, which is to take effect in the autumn and is expected to transfer across to Northern Ireland.

Deaglan was not previously considered for a special licence because of strict criteria which demanded `all other drug treatments must be exhausted before seeking cannabis-based drugs'.

She is unsure where the new guidance leaves her son, but said she is "so, so happy for Billy and for Charlotte".

"This absolutely opens the pathway for us all."

Jean Kelly with her son Deaglan. Picture by Mal McCann

Meanwhile, the family of seven-year-old Sophia Gibson, who a fortnight ago was on life-support waiting for a licence for cannabis oil, also found out yesterday that she will now be able to get the treatment indefinitely.

Her mother Danielle Davis, from Newtownards, Co Down, said the north's Department of Health had called to say a `possession licence' had been granted for the first time in the jurisdiction.

A long-term licence was approved earlier this month, after she awoke from her coma.

Sophia Gibson at home in Newtownards with her mum Danielle. Picture by Hugh Russell

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) last week said doctors should be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis products meeting safety standards.

Previously classed as a Schedule 1 drug - only to be used for research - it recommended should be placed in Schedule 2.

A definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product will now be developed and legal prescribing will begin by the autumn.

Before that, doctors can still apply to the independent expert panel on behalf of patients, with the licence fees for applications to the panel to be waived, and those already granted will not be charged.

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