Belfast Telegraph

Home Office asked to break deadlock over Billy Caldwell's cannabis prescription

Tyrone teenager Billy Caldwell with mum Charlotte at Belfast High Court. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Tyrone teenager Billy Caldwell with mum Charlotte at Belfast High Court. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye

By Alan Erwin

The Home Office is to be asked to become involved in attempts to break the deadlock over securing a medicinal cannabis prescription for a severely epileptic boy, a High Court judge announced.

The Department of Health will also be invited to take part in proceedings aimed at obtaining the treatment for Billy Caldwell on the NHS.

Mrs Justice Keegan took the step on Tuesday after being told current arrangements where the unlicensed medicine is being provided privately and free of charge could be brought to an end.

With experts currently in agreement on its benefits, she expressed surprise that no solution has been found for the 14-year-old from Co Tyrone.

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

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

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 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 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 today 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."

Monye Anyadike-Danes QC, for Mrs Caldwell, stressed the urgency for her client.

The North American company who are currently providing the product free of charge have indicated the arrangement cannot continue indefinitely, she told the court.

Mrs Danes submitted: "It needs to be prescribed on the NHS if it is to be affordable because the mother cannot afford it."

She added: "There's an air of desperation bearing down on Charlotte Caldwell."

Counsel for the 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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