Leading article

New legislation needed after Billy Caldwell's trauma

THERE will be huge relief that the 12-year-old Tyrone boy Billy Caldwell has at last been allowed access to the use of essential medication involving the controlled use of cannabis oil which may save his life but there will be equally enormous concern that the child and his family were left in such an agonising position in the first place.

Billy, from Castlederg, started his treatment for severe epilepsy in 2016 in the US, where medical marijuana is legal, but ran into what amounted to bureaucratic complications when he attempted to return home via Heathrow Airport last Monday.

His mother, Charlotte, had explained the position fully to the authorities in advance, and set out in direct terms how without the medication her child suffered regular seizures which placed his life at risk, but still had to endure the trauma of the cannabis oil being confiscated at the airport.

Five days of trauma for the family followed before the UK home secretary Sajid Javid intervened at the weekend to insist that the special substance could be sent to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, where Billy is being treated, for a period of 20 days.

It was a welcome move by Mr Javid but there will be an overwhelming sense, looking at the sequence of events since Billy was prescribed his treatment by a GP in his home town last year only to have it withdrawn on legal grounds, that his family have been put through a completely unnecessary ordeal.

While any use of cannabis needs to be monitored, Billy's treatment involves tiny amounts which alleviate a grave condition and are plainly unconnected with the casual use of drugs by adults.

It must be hoped that he continues to recover with the help of his medication and can be discharged from the hospital and allowed to return to Tyrone as quickly as possible.

There are powerful arguments for a change in legislation which would allow Billy and other epilepsy sufferers to take their medication at home under controlled circumstances.

Billy's case has been strongly supported by his MP, Sinn Féin's Órfhlaith Begley and a range of other public representatives, but there will also be a clear sense that the endorsement of a Stormont health minister would have made a crucial difference.

There are many equally pressing health and other issues which demand the restoration of our devolved institutions and our main parties must concentrate their efforts on breaking the deadlock in the interests of all our citizens.

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