Belfast Telegraph

Charlotte Caldwell hopeful of medicinal cannabis access as son's supply runs out

Billy Caldwell, who has a rare form of epilepsy, with his mother Charlotte. (PA/Brian Lawless)
Billy Caldwell, who has a rare form of epilepsy, with his mother Charlotte. (PA/Brian Lawless)

By Alan Erwin

A woman mounting a legal bid to secure access to medicinal cannabis for her severely epileptic son has expressed new hope that a resolution is in sight.

Charlotte Caldwell emerged from the High Court in Belfast on Tuesday encouraged by developments in the case aimed at clarifying the law around the treatment.

With her 13-year-old son Billy's privately-sourced supply due to run out on Friday, a new report by a London-based specialist in Paediatric Neurology raised no issues over the medication.

Discussions are now expected with health officials in a bid to avoid further court hearings.

Mrs Caldwell said: "I'm heartened, I think we are closer to a resolution and I feel confident that we are nearly there.

"We never wanted to be here in the first place. It was simply that we had exhausted every avenue and we were exhausted ourselves.

"Hopefully we can now reach a positive resolution in the next 48 hours without having to come back to court."

The Co Tyrone woman has been seeking judicial confirmation that a GP can prescribe medicinal cannabis to her son.

Billy is currently receiving a product from a North American manufacturer but there are no guarantees over how long that arrangement will continue.

In November last year 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 Billy Caldwell and his mother, who had cannabis oil brought back from Canada confiscated at London's Heathrow Airport.

The boy was then admitted to hospital after suffering seizures.

Despite the new guidelines, access to medication remains uncertain.

Mrs Caldwell is taking a case against the Health and Social Care Board over an alleged failure to take a decision on a 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 a consultant paediatrician with higher qualifications in epilepsy diagnosis and management.

Mrs Caldwell also wants an assurance from the court that she can lawfully administer the drug to her son.

The court was told previously about a potential "third way" of dealing with the legal issues.

A Professor in Paediatric Neurology at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London who backed the medication's use for Billy carried out a fresh assessment last Friday and delivered an up-to-date report.

A judge was also told draft guidance is to go before a UK Health Minister.

Mr Justice McCloskey described the latest report as the most significant development and decided against "micro-managing" the case at this stage.

He advised: "The parties limited, combined resources and energies should be focused more on interaction between themselves, rather than gathering in this courtroom at very great expense."

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