Northern Ireland news

Billy Caldwell: Breakthrough in battle to obtain medicinal cannabis on NHS

Billy Caldwell with his mother Charlotte. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE mother of a severely epileptic boy has hailed a breakthrough in a court battle to obtain medicinal cannabis for him on the NHS.

A High Court judge was told that a London-based paediatric neurologist is prepared to write the prescription for Co Tyrone teenager Billy Caldwell - if his trust gives him the green light.

Lawyers for the Health and Social Care Board also confirmed it will fund the treatment if the doctor receives permission.

Mrs Justice Keegan said her role has now "largely and happily been overtaken by progress on the ground".

Even though final approval still needs to be obtained, Billy's mother, Charlotte Caldwell, expressed hope that an end to her campaign is now in sight.

Outside court she said: "This is a massive step forward for us.

"It looks like Billy is now going to be allowed to get his prescription back. For the first time it seems there's no blockage there."

In November 2018 the rules were relaxed to allow some cannabis-derived medicines to be prescribed to patients in the UK by specialist doctors in limited circumstances.

It followed the high-profile case of the Caldwells, who had cannabis oil brought back from Canada confiscated at London's Heathrow Airport.

Billy was then admitted to hospital after suffering seizures.

Despite the new guidelines, access to treatment has remained uncertain.

Although the Canadian manufacturers of the product provided it to Billy free of charge, his family feared those arrangements could not continue long-term.

Mrs Caldwell brought a case against the Health and Social Care Board over an alleged failure to take a decision on the medication.

She wanted a declaration that a GP or clinician can lawfully write prescriptions for cannabis-based treatment under the direction of an expert in epilepsy diagnosis and management.

Other experts have already provided an opinion on the benefits of the treatment for Billy.

At a previous hearing the judge expressed bafflement that no solution has been found.

But yesterday counsel for Mrs Caldwell, Monye Anyadike-Danes QC, revealed that a consultant paediatric neurologist will now write the prescription if his trust gives authorisation and the health authorities in Northern Ireland provides funding.

"All that's missing is the doctor to be told he can do that. That seems to be the only impediment," she said.

Listing the case for a final outcome in May, Mrs Justice Keegan told the parties: "If you have resolved the matter (by then) you don't need to come to court, and I would encourage that."

Outside court Mrs Caldwell's solicitor, Anurag Deb of KRW Law, expressed his hope that no further hearings will be required.

He said: "This is as close as we have got to a serious resolution for Billy."

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