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Northern Ireland news

Co Down girl (7) granted medicinal cannabis licence

Sophia Gibson from Newtownards suffers with Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE family of a seven-year-old Co Down girl last night hailed the decision to grant their ill daughter a long-term license for medicinal cannabis as a "life-changer".

Sophia Gibson from Newtownards, who suffers with Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy, was granted the licence yesterday just days after she suffered a catastrophic seizure and placed on life support at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

It is understood that Sophia is the first person to be granted the license by a new specialist cannabis panel set up by the British home secretary following a number of high-profile cases of children with severe epilepsy being denied access to cannabis oil to control seizures.

Her mother Danielle Davis last night said the "years of battling have finally paid off".

Sophia, a pupil at Clifton Special School, suffers frequent and dangerous seizures that could kill her. The condition is caused by a rare genetic dysfunction of the brain and results in severe epileptic seizures.

Her family have said cannabis oil relieves the symptoms of their daughter's condition and could drastically reduce the number of seizures she endures each day.

She was previously treated with the medication when her parents took her to the Netherlands.

The Home Office confirmed it had received two applications for Sophia, which the panel has agreed to consider as one. Recommendations from the panel are given to the Department of Health Northern Ireland to consider as licensing decisions are devolved.

Ms Davis last night described the decision as a "lifechanger and a lifesaver for Sophia".

"We would like to thank each and every person that has supported Sophia and our family," she said .

"The years of battling have finally paid off. We can enjoy life as a family and look forward to this life.

''We hope that following Sophia’s journey other children and adults across the UK can access the same treatment without having to uproot their lives to travel or move abroad. Cannabis should be rescheduled and doctors should be able to prescribe it''.

Just last week, Billy Caldwell from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, was granted an emergency licence by the Department of Health allowing doctors in Belfast to treat him with medicinal cannabis.

He suffers from a severe form of epilepsy. His mother Charlotte says the medication helps to control his seizures.

The use of medicinal cannabis is currently strictly limited in the UK. However, that is currently under review by the Home Office.

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