Northern Ireland

Billy Caldwell: Home Office asked to break medicinal cannabis deadlock

Charlotte and Billy Caldwell Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Charlotte Caldwell has campaigned for a change in the law which would allow her son, Billy, to access medicinal cannabis

The Home Office is to be asked to try to break the deadlock over securing a medicinal cannabis prescription for a severely epileptic boy.

A High Court judge made the announcement in the case of County Tyrone boy Billy Caldwell on Tuesday.

The Department of Health will also be invited to take part in proceedings aimed at obtaining the treatment for the 14-year-old on the NHS.

The court heard that current arrangements could end.

Those arrangements mean the unlicensed medicine is being provided privately and free of charge.

'Nobody will write the prescription'

With experts currently in agreement on its benefits, Mrs Justice Keegan expressed surprise that no solution has been found for the child.

"I have difficulty getting my head around it. They say it's the right treatment, but nobody will write the prescription," the judge said.

Billy's mother, Charlotte Caldwell, has taken legal action in a bid to secure long-term medication.

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

Image caption Cannabis oil was confiscated from Charlotte Caldwell after she brought it over from Canada last year

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.

Cannabis-based medication

Despite the new guidelines, access to treatment remains uncertain.

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

She wants a declaration that a Northern Ireland-based GP or clinician who is not on the specialist register can lawfully write prescriptions for cannabis-based medication under the direction of an expert in epilepsy diagnosis and management.

A paediatric neurologist at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London has already provided an opinion indicating its benefits for Billy.

But the court was told on Tuesday that specialist does not feel it would be appropriate for her to prescribe the treatment.

At one point Mrs Justice Keegan remarked: "I could be wrong, but reading the response, if Billy lived in London you might think to yourself if the clinician in Great Ormond Street is thinking this is the right approach there wouldn't be a problem in terms of this prescription."

'His Christmas wish won't come true'

The North American company that is currently providing the product free of charge has indicated the arrangement cannot continue indefinitely, she told the court.

Counsel for the Health and Social Care Board confirmed no paediatric neurologist in the NHS is prepared to write a prescription due to the lack of evidence about an unlicensed product.

"We don't know the long-term effects. That's one of the major concerns," he said.

Adjourning the case to January, the judge set out plans aimed at achieving a breakthrough.

"I'm going to invite both the Department of Health and the Home Office to consider becoming interested parties in these proceedings, given that I'm really solution-focused at the moment," she confirmed.

Outside court, Mrs Caldwell welcomed the step taken.

She added: "It's been a long battle for Billy and sadly his Christmas wish won't come true. But we're hoping for a resolution in the New Year."

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